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Lewis County commissioners send 911 center tax to November ballot

By Mitchell Roland / [email protected]

For the Lewis County 911 center, if at first you don’t succeed, then try, try again.

After the proposal to increase the county’s sales tax by .2% failed in the 2023 election, Lewis County voters will officially be asked again to support the measure. On Tuesday, the Board of Lewis County Commissioners authorized a proposition for the November ballot to collect an additional .2% sales tax to fund its 911 call center, with groceries, gas and medicine exempted from the tax.

Even though the average shopper likely won’t notice paying an extra two cents on their $10 purchase (or coughing up two extra dimes when they drop $100), supporters of the initiative say the proposal will have an outsized impact.

“I personally do support our public safety and first responders, firefighters, police and medical personnel,” said Anthony Mixer, president of Citizens for Lewis County 911 political action committee (PAC), at a June meeting of the county commissioners. “We need to support our public safety in a time like this in whatever way, shape or form we can.”

Currently, between Washington’s minimum sales tax, 6.5%, and the county’s, 1.3%, unincorporated county residents currently pay a 7.8% sales tax, according to the Department of Revenue for Washington state. Cities also collect a percentage. Sales tax rates in Centralia and Chehalis are currently 8.2%, according to previous reporting by The Chronicle.

The request comes as county officials say the center struggles to meet demand. According to previous reporting by The Chronicle, decades of underfunding mean overworked staff and infrastructure.

“We are very short-handed,” former Lewis County Manager Erik Martin said in July 2022. “There are times that we have less-than-optimal (staff levels). What typically happens is they’re working overtime. They’re really working hard and being troopers about it but … it’s a really tough job.”

Last November, the proposition failed by about 3%, with roughly 600 more voters opposing the proposal than supporting it. The initiative had support from the City of Centralia, the Fire Chiefs Association and the 911 Communications Combined User Committee for Lewis County, among others.

After the proposal failed, organizers have sought to hone their messaging, casting the added cost as a small price to pay for security.

During a quarterly meeting of the Lewis County Fire Commissioners Association last November, George Kaech, a fire commissioner for Lewis County Fire District 8 in Salkum, said the previous messaging efforts fell on deaf ears.

“People did not realize that two-tenths of a percent is two dollars a thousand,” Kaech said at the meeting. “It never got put out, the numbers.”

The general election will take place Nov. 5.

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