According to unofficial election returns from the county Board of Elections, 15,492 voters representing 54 percent of the ballots cast were against the levy while 13,341 voters, or 46 percent, favored the measure.
County Commissioner Tom Williams, who had wanted to delay the levy until the November general election, said he thinks an investigation into allegations of missing items at the county’s Adult Probation Department that had spilled into the Crime Lab was the reason for the defeat.
“This is what I was afraid of. When you have an active investigation going on, people are going to be reluctant to go through and vote for additional tax dollars,” Williams said.
The investigation was launched earlier this year after it became public that the Crime Lab’s director, Emmanuel de Leon, had been placed on leave from his duties as the county’s chief deputy probation officer and director of the county’s Forensics Laboratory last year in connection with the missing items.
The Probation Department and the now-shuttered Forensics Lab fall under the control of the county’s General Division judges, while the Crime Lab is overseen by the commissioners.
The investigation ultimately cleared de Leon of wrongdoing and found no serious problems with the Crime Lab, although the probe continues at the Probation Department.
Commissioner Ted Kalo said the investigation may have placed a dark cloud over the lab, but he doesn’t believe it was the primary reason the 0.08-mill levy, which would have generated $495,789 annually, failed.
The problem, he said, was the extremely light voter turnout.
“In off-year primary elections with no contested candidates it becomes difficult to drive people to the polls,” he said.
Commissioner Lori Kokoski said she was surprised by the results of the election, but she too believes that negative publicity generated by the investigation harmed the levy’s chances with voters.
Both Kokoski and Kalo said they would be willing to take another shot at passing Crime Lab levy in November.
In the meantime, the county is implementing an overhaul of how the Crime Lab operates and Kokoski said they will have to make due with the current funding level.
“We’re just going to do the best we can with the resources that taxpayers give us,” she said.
Backers of the levy, including law enforcement, have argued that the Crime Lab allows for speedy processing of drugs seized during criminal investigations.