Proposed sales tax designed to fund public safety in Centralia

Posted on 21 February 2018 at 7:56pm

CENTRALIA - A bill that would give the city of Centralia the opportunity to increase sales tax by a half cent could keep two police officers on patrol at all times, supporters say.

Voters could see the bill on the ballot as soon as November, according to Centralia City Administrator Matt Harline.

"It's much more safe to have a backup in a separate car at all times, night and day." Harline said. "Right now we are doing that, but it's eating into our fund balance and we can't continue that." 

Centralia has asked Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia and Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch, R-Hallsville, to introduce the legislation, since it doesn't have the power to do so. 

Harline said cities of Centralia's size, or fourth-class cities, are "creatures of the state." 

He said they only have the powers given to them by the state, and, right now, that does include the power to implement a sales tax for public safety. 

The state is estimating the sales tax would raise around $200,000 a year, but the city believes it will raise closer about $10,000 more than that.

Harline said the city will put the money into the police and fire departments. But, since the city has had to cut into other funds to pay for more policing, the tax revenue would work to relieve the strain.

If the bill isn't passed, Harline said, the city might have to cut back police. He said another option for additional funding would be a property tax increase. But that is more painful for residents to pay, he said.

Centralia Police Chief Larry Dudgeon said he hopes the bill would fund a school resource officer for at least four to five years. Just last week a Centralia High School student brought a gun and ammunition to school in his backpack. 

"I believe it's of paramount importance," Dudgeon said about the bill. 

He said the police department will make things work if the measure doesn't pass. ,

He said the strain on the city's budget is something everyone should be able to related to.

"It's not any different with your own checkbook. If you go to CC's Broliers tonight, probably next week you're going to eat frozen chicken somewhere, right?" he said.