Community Government Health & Wellness Police & Fire

Public safety sales tax revenues would primarily sustain police staffing

Posted on July 2nd, 2024 By:

After overwhelmingly rejecting a property tax increase earlier this year, Gig Harbor voters will head to the polls again this summer to vote on a sales tax measure supporting the city’s police department and general fund budget.

Revenue from the proposed Public Safety Sales Tax, which will appear on the Aug. 6 primary ballot, would sustain current and already budgeted service levels for criminal justice and police, said City Administrator Katrina Knutson. It also helps offset, at least in part, a forthcoming general fund shortfall expected to hit the city late next year.

Funding would primarily support existing police staffing. The city budgets for 25 commissioned police officers, Knutson said. Three of those positions are currently vacant. The city also hopes to create a second lieutenant position to handle administrative duties.

The Civic Center on Grandview Street.

‘Sustain our current and budgeted staffing levels’

Under state law, some revenue from the proposal could go toward reducing homelessness and improving behavioral health. When asked if funds might support those initiatives and what projects they might be used for, Knutson said they have not identified any specific projects.

“[W]e need this funding to sustain our current and budgeted staffing levels,” she wrote in an email. “It should be noted that a portion of our Housing, Health, and Human Services Program Manager can be funded through this for tasks supporting our law enforcement officers.”

If approved, the measure would raise the sales tax rate in Gig Harbor by one-tenth of 1%. That would generate an estimated $1 million in revenue. That would put the city’s total sales tax rate at an even 9%.

State law requires the city use third of that revenue for criminal justice purposes. The city must share 15% with Pierce County; the remainder would go into the general fund.

Police get large share of general fund

The general fund pays for basic city services like police, street maintenance, parks, building operations, and many staff salaries. Its revenue comes primarily from property taxes, sales taxes and other city fees, meaning there are limited options to replenish it.

The Police Department accounts for about 29% of general fund expenditures, according to the city’s 2023-2024 biennium budget.

The Public Safety Tax proposal comes after nearly 70% of Gig Harbor voters rejected a proposed property tax increase in April. That measure would have raised property taxes by about 40 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

General fund deficit

Both tax measures are looking to offset the city’s projected general fund deficit. Officials attributed the shortfall to diminishing property tax revenues, increased population, lower-than-expected sales tax receipts, and depleted permit income. Last year, the city froze several vacant, general-funded positions, saving about $1.4 million.  

“We’re looking at a $2 to $3 million shortfall which is going to hit us at the end of 2025, seriously,” Finance Director David Rodenbach told the city council in January. “We can probably eke by one more year. … But if we head into the next budget cycle the way we are right now we’re looking at a $2 to $3 million shortfall.”

If approved by a majority of voters, the sales tax would take effect next year. 

Conor Wilson is a Murrow News fellow, reporting for Gig Harbor Now and the Bremerton-based newspaper Kitsap Sun, through a program managed by Washington State University.