Too soon to tell.
That's the prognosis for San Juan County's proposed public safety sales-tax increase following Tuesday's tally of primary election results.
With 4,258 ballots counted, votes in favor of the sales-tax measure, which would nudge up the local sales tax mark by three-tenths of 1 percent, from 7.8 percent, among the lowest in the state, to 8.1 percent, outnumbered the opposition by a mere 195 votes. The measure gained 52.4 percent of the initial ballot tally versus 47.6 percent against.
As many as 2,000 ballots have yet to be counted, according to Auditor Milene Henley, chief of the county Elections department.
"That's about 60 percent of what we'd expect," Henley said of the number of ballots counted so far. "The results could change."
If approved, the sales-tax uptick is expected to generate roughly $1 million a year in new revenue, 40 percent of which would, by law, be distributed to the Town of Friday Harbor. Also in accordance with state law, proceeds from the proposed increase are earmarked exclusively for government services that fall into the category of public safety, such as law enforcement or criminal justice services, public health or road safety projects.
The increase would add 30 cents onto the cost of a $100 purchase, or $1.50 for $500. Most groceries, professional services and prescription drugs would be excluded.
Tuesday's tally of 4,258 ballots equals 37 percent of the county's 11,624 registered voters. Results of the next ballot count are expected on Wednesday, by 5 p.m.
According to county officials, revenue from the sales-tax increase would help soften the blow of pending budget cuts for the coming year. Without the additional revenue, county officials anticipate having to slice $800,000 in expenses in 2013 and face an average revenue shortfall of $1.2 million over the next three years.
After four years of budget cuts and the loss of 20-plus positions, county Administrator Pro-Tem Bob Jean said whittling down general fund expenses could well mean downsizing the budget of the Sheriff's department and county's criminal justice departments as well. With added revenue, Jean said the public and the county would both have some time and breathing room to strategically develop a "new normal" in the extent of services that the county can afford to provide.
"With the revenue from the public safety sales tax I think we'd have a fighting chance," he said. "It would give people time to step back and breathe a little, and the community needs time to get meaningfully engaged in where we go from here."
In other races, local voters backed incumbent state Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas, in his bid for a second four-year term. Ranker out-polled two primary opponents, John Swapp and Jim Cozad, collecting 2,546 votes, or 66 percent of the initial ballot tally. Ranker and Swapp, who received 1,181 of ballots cast in San Juan County, are expected to advance to the general election.
In Washington state's Top Two primary system, the two leading candidates advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.
Local voters also favored incumbent U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen as well, who gained 65 percent and 63 percent, respectively, of the initial tally.