More funds could help target dealers and send them to prisonLONG BEACH, Wash. - Pacific County Sheriff John Didion wants to declare war on methamphetamine.

The drug is sweeping Southwest Washington and meth users are turning to burglary to pay for their addiction.

Pacific County voters are being asked to support a law enforcement levy Tuesday.

"We've seen a phenomenal rise in the crime rate," Didion said. "Users are forced to steal to supply their habit. We've tried many ways to deal with it over the years."

Over the past two weeks, Didion, County Commissioners Jon Kaino and Bud Cuffell, and Prosecutor David Burke have been meeting with county residents to explain the six-year criminal justice property tax levy that's on the primary ballot.

At 50 cents per $1,000 of property value, the owner of a home valued at $100,000 would pay just $50 a year.

"That's a tankful of gas or a round of golf," Didion said. "You'll be getting a real bang for your buck. Meth is a horrible, horrible epidemic."

Long Beach Police Chief Flint Wright agreed. "It comes down to quality of life for people in the county. Right now, it feels like we're losing the battle," he said.

Wright said a couple of years ago a man came to the back door of the police station. "He said 'Do you know how hard it is to stay clean here? Hard drugs are so easy to get.' If this levy doesn't pass, it won't be getting any better."

Didion said this year he, Kaino, Wright, Long Beach Mayor Ken Ramsey and state Rep. Brian Hatfield gained permission from the state Legislature to ask for authorization for a six-year levy, rather than the one-year levies of past years.

If the levy passes, a seven-agency Pacific County Narcotics Enforcement Team will have $798,065 to spend on law enforcement specifically targeted against drug use.

"We will have a serious impact on drug dealers. Didion said. "Once that happens, the crime rate will fall and our existing officers can be more efficient and can be more pro-active and we can get ahead of the curve."

"If the levy passes Sept. 14, funds for hiring two deputies and an additional prosecutor would be in the 2005 county budget," Kaino said. The budget will be adopted around the end of October this year.

"This is like a junior, junior levy," Kaino said. "It won't impact fire, hospital or library funds. After the first year of trials for drug dealers, the bar will be raised and they will be going to the state pen."

One of the biggest problems in a county struggling because of drops in timber tax receipts and the cut in vehicle registration revenue in 2001, is the cost of housing drug offenders at the county's jail. They frequently go into withdrawal and have to be taken to Willapa Harbor Hospital in South Bend with a deputy, usually on overtime, as a guard. That means medical and hospital expenses, in addition to the expense of keeping them at the jail.

With undercover work made possible by the additional deputies, Burke said, "we can get the dealers, who will go to state prison. We'll have more funds for prosecution, defense and the jail."

Didion said his office purchased a used ambulance this year to be used as a meth response vehicle.

"We want to form our own response team," he said. "In the past we've had to wait three or four days after we find a meth manufacturer for the state to send their response teams and we had to use two deputies to guard the site until they arrive. With the ambulance, training and equipment, we can respond to a lab, if it's not up and running, and stabilize it until the state gets here."


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