Pleading with the county commissioners to resubmit a "meth tax" to voters in November, members of a citizens group said the area continues to struggle with drug-related crime and has developed a reputation as a haven for cheap narcotics.
"Doing the same thing is not going to get us anywhere," Paul Youmans, a member of Citizens Solutions for a Safe and Drug Free Cowlitz County, told commissioners Tuesday morning.
He said that paying for added law enforcement and drug treatment with the tax would "turn this into a healthier Cowlitz County."
JoAnn Crayne, a Longview business owner who worked on the new meth tax proposal, said she sees "nobody stepping up to make a change."
"There's no funding out there ... that can make an impact like this can," she said.
Commissioners, who have the authority to place the measure on the November ballot, said they will host three yet-to-be scheduled public forums on the issue and will decide early next month whether to send the initiative to voters.
The request comes less than a year after voters killed a similar countywide measure by 352 votes. The committee formed soon after the measure's Sept. 20 demise and has been working on a new proposal since. Like its predecessor, this measure would create a 0.2 percent sales tax (2 cents on a $10 purchase) to combat drug abuse. The committee said it would raise about $2 million annually. (Last fall, the county estimated that tax would raise $2.3 million; on Tuesday, County Commissioner Jeff Rasmussen said the discrepancy is the result of a miscalculation last year.)
Also like last year's proposal, the new plan would be weighted toward beefing up law enforcement, with 55 percent of the revenues directed toward hiring more police, deputies and court and prosecution workers. A higher share of the new plan would be spent assuring the money is spent on what it's intended for.
Proponents of the plan stressed that the tax would not apply to vehicle purchases, and all of the new revenues would be used within Cowlitz County. The tax would expire after eight years.
Rasmussen said he wasn't surprised to see the measure resurface.
"The issue of needing more law enforcement on the street hasn't really gone away," he said.
Asked if he supported the new tax, he said, "I think it's always a good idea to ask the citizens."
Shortly after the meth tax failed last fall, commissioners appeared to have little stomach for resubmitting the measure. Despite the close tally, the measure failed in most areas of the county except within the city of Longview.
Mike Parker, of Longview, who runs a disaster recovery and cleanup company, questioned whether the new programs would make Cowlitz County more attractive to drug users and said there are already too many social programs aligned against these problems. "I'm not for a program to give more freebies away and take our hard-earned money," Parker said.
Drug problems, he said, are far too intractable to be solved by a few additional programs. Even recovered addicts need housing, he said, and people who have switched from heroin to methadone are largely unemployable.
"They're still useless to the community," Parker said.
But the proposal appeared to have more supporters at Tuesday's commissioners meeting than detractors. A few dozen people, including Longview Police Chief Alex Perez, Kelso Police Chief Wayne Nelson and Cowlitz County Sheriff Bill Mahoney, watched intently from the audience as the citizens group presented its ideas.
After the meeting, Nelson said he supports taking another shot at approving the tax.
"If we don't do something different, there's little chance of seeing improvement on this," he said.
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