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Clean Ticket Company
April 5, 2017
#64-94 a2z

Public safety sales tax defeated again

The Kankakee County public safety sales tax referendum was defeated 53 percent to 47 percent with 14,125 total votes cast — pushing the backs of the county's law enforcement community firmly against the wall.

It is the second time in 2 1/2 years the county has tried but failed to pass a sales tax increase.

While the 2014 defeat was resounding — 70 percent of voters said no — it asked for a full percentage point hike. This year's ask was for .25 percent, and would have raised the county's sales tax from 6.25 percent to 6.5 percent.

The referendum — which would have raised an estimated $2.4 million, all slated to go to law enforcement, and the offices of the state's attorney and public defender — would have expired after four years.

That gave county officials hope it would pass this time around.

Similar measures were proposed in counties across the country, including St. Louis County in Missouri, which passed a half-cent increase the same day Kankakee voted no. But a half-cent tax increase failed in neighboring Grundy County, which was plagued by similar budgetary issues

Kankakee County's failed referendum on Tuesday is part of a two-decade-long attempt to increase the sales tax. A similar referendum also failed overwhelmingly in 1997 and again in 2000. Officials at the time cited similar public safety concerns, saying the money would go toward a new jail and police communication system.

State's Attorney Jim Rowe had hoped to use the funding to bring on prosecutors to specifically address drug, child violence, domestic battery and gang cases.  

"We want to beef up the prosecutor's office," he said. "We previously had 24 criminal prosecutors in this office and we now have eight. I’m not looking to get back to 24. I don’t think we need 24. But 12 or 13 would be a good thing." Now he hopes to get the necessary funding from the county board. 

Sheriff Mike Downey says the vote will force his office to rethink their strategy. "There’s really going to have to be a refocus on doing what we’re required to do by state law, and that may end up costing some of the municipalities some additional money as well." Downey says his office is stretched thin, especially when they're sent to more rural areas.  

"We’re going to show up to work tomorrow, do our jobs, and pray to God that understaffing doesn't cause a serious injury, because that would be a tragedy," he said. 

County voters did say yes to a non-binding resolution that will reduce the number of county board members from 28 to 21 by the year 2020. It passed overwhelmingly, with almost 80 percent in favor. 

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