07/31/2009: "Peterson vs. Petersen Continues"
Letter to Editor:
In response to the Letter by Councilor Peterson (see below -Ed), I am disappointed that the County Council does not think that the citizens pay enough taxes. It is even more disturbing that they are actively campaigning for the proposition to raise taxes above the legal limit and trashing any opposition.
Not one of them stands with the taxpayers who think it is a bad idea to raise taxes in the worst economic slump in memory. In fact those taxpayers are blamed for the diminishing quality of life in the Islands. I thought being taxed out of our homes and businesses was the reason our quality of life was going down the tubes. Doesn’t anyone on this Council believe in fiscal restraint and lower taxes?
The fact remains that we pay the highest taxes per capita taxes in the State. The absurd arguments to spin this sound like a debate about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Bottom line-we pay more.
It is also troubling to me that anyone who disagrees with the Council’s attempt to generate support for a tax increase is “divisive.” Perhaps I don’t understand the definition of “divisive threat.” Isn’t it a threat when the Council tells the taxpayers that popular programs will be cut if you don’t vote to raise taxes? Isn’t this an attempt to divide people?
It’s almost as if Councilors have a kind or “Tourette’s Spending Syndrome.” They spend compulsively while simultaneously berating everyone around them for noticing.
The Council could sit back and let the people decide whether they want to pay more taxes for the next six-years. Instead they have taken a personal interest in making sure that our taxes are raised. If the people vote the tax down the Council will have created political cover. They won’t be responsible for the cuts. The divisive taxpayers struggling through this recession will be blamed. If we vote for more taxes then government can continue to grow as if there is no economic downturn at all. They can pass out big raises while the rest of us pay more taxes and make sacrifices.
The taxpayers did not cause this predicament. Lack of fiscal discipline did. The Council can’t seem to say no to those who come before them and plead for more money. I understand that there may be some pain in making hard decisions. That doesn’t change the fact that the rest of us have to make hard decisions when times are tight. We don’t have the luxury of “passing-the-buck” on to taxpayers when we exceed our budgets. Government does.
Letter to Editor:
Response to Gordy Petersen’s letter to the editor (2nd letter below this one -Ed)
Gordy Petersen and other committed critics of the County Council and Administration have developed a technique of piling on so many partial facts and misleading conclusions that they collectively portray a county government run by reckless spenders and incompetents. I would like to respond to some of their deceptive arguments in the following paragraphs. The underlined statements below are from Gordy Petersen’s letter to the editor regarding the proposed levy lift:
• San Juan County residents pay the highest per capita property taxes In the state of Washington. True, but we also have a very low resident-per-parcel ratio. Property taxes are, of course, paid by both resident and non-resident owners. The per capita tax rate is high because there are many property tax payers residing out of the county. For example, in my neighborhood of 15 homes, only two are occupied full-time by the people who own them - the “residents.” So, using this logic, my wife and I are “per capita” paying half the taxes for the entire neighborhood when in fact they are shared by 13 other owners. Obviously, these same numbers show that a huge proportion of our tax burden is being paid by non-residents.
A much more relevant statistic is actual taxes paid for the same value property in all of the counties. For a $500,000 property (our median value is $510,000) we pay the lowest in actual dollars in the state - $2760. The next lowest is Island County at $3,385. The highest actual taxes paid for the same value property are in Franklin County at $6,900.
• The Council is dividing our community by pitting groups of citizens against each other. This statement adds malice to our alleged incompetence. Two different Councils have acted with their best judgment to reduce expenditures three times in the last year for a total of more than $1,000,000, in response to continually shrinking revenue. If there is a divide, I believe that efforts by Gordy and others are driving it.
• It is a mistake to think that giving the Council more money will end their spending spree. The Council is legally required to adopt and live within balanced budgets. It is incomprehensible to me that “spending spree” would be thought an appropriate description for what we have all been going through with three successive budget reductions and hundreds of hours of analysis. We are reaching a point where our ability to perform mandated functions is being compromised. Without voter approval of Proposition #1, San Juan County will not be able to maintain the many programs that people rely on for fundamental quality of life.
All of Gordy’s assertions can be countered, but these are complex issues and would require more space than is available here. It is relatively easy for determined critics to produce arguments that sound pretty good until they are closely examined. It is far more difficult to devise solutions in extraordinarily challenging times and to reshape government effectively within the reality of dwindling revenues.
I hope you will vote for the San Juan County levy lift. We have specifically identified the eleven programs and amounts that will be maintained for the six-year life of the levy. The County Council is out of options, except for those that will drastically reduce basic services expected from government. This is not a threat, it is not an attempt to intimidate, exaggerate, or add emotion in order to over-dramatize the reality. It is not some sort of malicious intent to pit one group against another. It is what we have ahead of us if Proposition #1 fails.
(No public facilities were used in making this communication).
(Mr. Richard Peterson is the San Juan County District 2 Councilman)
Letter to Editor:
The County Council is proposing to raise your property taxes. You have a choice. This has nothing to do with school sports or recreation. That is a completely separate proposition. This proposal is entitled “Proposition 1”. It will raise your property taxes for 6 years. Directly or indirectly, everyone will pay. Here are some important points to remember when you vote.
1. San Juan is the only county in Washington State that is asking voters to pay property taxes over and above the legal limit. http://wei.secstate.wa.gov/HELP/Internal/Pages/WEICountyOVGs.aspx
2. San Juan County residents pay the highest per capita property taxes in the State of Washington. (Total property taxes collected divided by population equals $2,458.80 per person) http://dor.wa.gov/Content/AboutUs/StatisticsAndReports/2008/Property_Tax_Statistics_2008/default.aspx ($37,605,001.00)
http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/53/53055.html (population 15,294)
3. The Council is dividing our community by pitting groups of citizens against each other.
All San Juan County citizens should be working together to pressure the Council to prioritize their budget and control spending. Instead the Council has acted to divide the citizens by threatening to cut popular programs, pitting groups who want to save them, against small businesses and taxpayers who are struggling to survive an economic downturn. This was an unfortunate result of too much spending.
4. While spending has increased, sacrifice by top officials has been minimal. Administration and Communications budgets have increased dramatically since the Charter was passed. The Council has held their ground on suggestions to limit their own pay. They have wasted tax dollars on consultants, facilitators, useless studies, and lost our money on lawsuits while accumulating new debt.
5. The Administrator negotiated new contracts with the employees union that raised pay 3% over 2 years in the worst recession in memory. Currently, the average pay that county workers receive in San Juan County is $18,998.00 more per year than the private sector pays for the same work. (EFF Policy Highlighter 2009, http://www.effwa.org/main/article.php?article_id=2755&number=51).
6. It is a mistake to think that giving the Council more money will end their spending spree. Only by voting to reject this proposal can we send them a message to slow down the spending. Recently this Council has voted in a new storm water tax, a noxious weed tax, and a real estate excise tax. They have taken a 1% increase each year and spent all our cash reserves, yet they still want more. Future increases in sales tax are next. Taxpayers should reject this “levy lift” to send a message. People are struggling and must cut back. Government should too.
If we stand together we can keep funding the programs that make this a vibrant community and still have a place where we can afford to live and work. Don’t be fooled into thinking that cutting popular programs is the only choice. It’s not. Vote to reject this new tax increase. Send a message to the Council to find efficiency and stop spending!
San Juan Island