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Tuesday, September 22nd

LETTERS ON BALLOT MEASURES FOR TAX INCREASES


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There They Go Again
Dear Editor:


There they go again. Our county council can’t manage our funds and are asking to raise the county property taxes. Forget the fact that we are already the most heavily taxed per capita county in the state. The council has cherry picked programs they want to cut to arouse the widest citizen concern.

Everybody always says that we have the lowest tax rates in the state. Sure we do, but you don’t pay a rate, you pay a bill. Our houses are more expensive than others in the state since most of them came over on the ferry, piece by piece. It is far more expensive to build in this county than elsewhere due to ferry transportation and a labor force that either lives locally, or must commute from the mainland. But a more expensive house doesn’t put more load on the county treasury.

According to the Washington Department of Revenue tables, San Juan County levied $37,808,000 in property taxes in 2007 with a population of 15,900 people. The average property tax collected per resident was $2,377.86, by far the highest in the state. King County, in second place, collected $1,584.23 for each of its residents, and the state average was $1,190.89. We are very close to double the state average. Remember, not only is this amount collected, but this amount is spent.

Rather than concentrate on cutting popular programs like 4-H, the county could do what other governmental organizations are already doing. That something is outsourcing work to the private sector.

According to the U. S. Department of Commerce, the average San Juan County private sector wage in 2006 was $23,763 annually, while it averaged $42,760 for Government jobs. Decades ago, government work was generally lower paying than in the private sector since the government jobs were more secure and had better retirement attached. Years of spineless politicians kicking the can down the road to the next set of politicians, coupled with strong labor unions, has changed that situation at all levels of government. Government jobs today are the most widely sought for their good pay, benefits, and job security.

The County negotiated an increase in compensation in an economy where the average citizen is having trouble staying employed and many retired residents are seeing a significant cut in retirement income. While the voters have to cut their personal expenditures, the county wants to raise taxes.

How about putting some of the work the county does out to private sector bid, and fairly compare this with the cost of doing it in-house? Some jobs are short term and require special equipment and knowledge, so private firms are in a position to do that work more efficiently. Private firms have to worry about being competitive and actually making a profit, unlike a government work force.

There are many innovative ideas that can solve the county financial problem other than tax and spend. I hope our elected politicians are up to the task.

Dave Vandaveer
Friday Harbor
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Vote Yes on Proposition 1
Dear Editor:

I ask that everyone please vote YES to support our County’s 4H program. It is essential to our community and should not be cut. 4H builds character and leadership skills that are crucial in the development of young adults. The future of our tight knit community is dependent on kids that learn the importance of service based projects, the utilization of team work, and strengthening a community for generations to come.

4H has personally provided me with a solid foundation that is practical and continues to serve me well in my life endeavors. I am currently writing this from Texas A&M University majoring in Biomedical Science and working towards Veterinary School. I hope to one day return to our community and give back, for all it has done for me.

4H has played a very influential role in shaping my life goals. It was during my eleven years as a 4H member that my passion to pursue veterinary medicine was realized. The constant dedication that training and caring for an animal like my horse fostered a partnership that made me appreciate the valuable lessons that an animal can teach you. Through this I have learned that a horse is quick to forgive an offense but always remembers. A horse will humble you by finding your weaknesses and reflecting your personality. These lessons have helped me to discover my ambitions and individuality, which continue to serve me well throughout my life.
4H is where dreams are realized and become reality for many young adults. We cannot to afford to lose a program that holds such great value for our youth and one that makes our community so strong and special.

Blake Guard
(Blake was active in 4-H on San Juan Island, and is currently a Junior Biomedical Science major at Texas A&M University with an emphasis in pre-veterinary studies. -Editor)

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Former County Commissioner Supports Levy Lift
Dear Editor:

I urge San Juan County citizens to vote in favor of Proposition 1 that will temporarily increase the levy on property taxes to support vital county programs. Senior services, public health immunization clinics, 4-H, county parks, emergency management and oil spill protection are all programs that are important to our island communities and are in danger of being significantly reduced or lost altogether.

Yes, taxes are a burden and we must require that our elected officials be fiscally responsible. The fact is that we have the lowest levy rate in the state and it will remain the lowest even if Proposition 1 passes. That is remarkable given that we live in a county made up entirely of islands and it just plain costs more to provide needed services. I look at my tax bill and see that property taxes for all of our county services, except roads, is less than I pay for our very important, but largely volunteer, Lopez Island Fire Department.

I’m comfortable that our county officials are being prudent and that we should support Proposition 1.

Thank you,

Tom Cowan
Lopez Island
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Two! Three! Pin!
Dear Editor:

9th grade; 1982; a younger me - an adversary, a mat, and self worth captured in a moment of time. The momentous occasion - a 9th grade wrestling match after a year of drug and alcohol abuse that had led to my expulsion from school, an embarrassing return to 8th grade courses, and grief caused to my parents that I still grieve over.

What pulled me from the edge? What led to this momentous day that had such a lasting impact on my life?

Sports.

That day in a locker-room after my match, I committed to myself to be true, drug-free, and committed to excellence. Not only did I go on to letter in wrestling, I doubled my efforts and managed to begin High School with my class.

The driving force behind my recovery from the embarrassment of expulsion and addiction was the competitive spirit instilled in me from years of youth athletics; the discipline attained through practice, the camaraderie that exists between team mates who have striven to achieve a common goal, and a bond that exists only between those who have committed to excel in behalf of the team.

Last year I stood before a meeting at Friday Harbor High School and implored those present to chip in, and do everything possible to save our local high school sports programs, the goal was achieved and the programs were restored.

What motivated me - the afore mentioned personal story of redemption.

Extra curricular activities are the sinews that tie the academic community together; be it the athlete whose personal life is on the brink, or the struggling artist longing for outlet; all are worthy, all deserve our support, all are the essence of education; and damn it, if it means I give up one dinner and a movie in town…SO BE IT!

I implore all of us in this great community, even in these trying times, give what you can, support our schools -especially athletics and art programs.

Christopher Laws
Friday Harbor
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Please support Proposition 1
Dear Editor:

Letter to the Editor,

In 2001, Washington voters passed Initiative 747 which affected all taxing districts in the State by limiting the annual property tax increase revenue to the districts from 6% to 1%. This is the eighth year I-747 has been in affect. The new law has caused a 40% property tax reduction to all taxing districts in the State, without voter approval to collect more than an annual 1% tax increase.

I-747 has had a devastating affect on our county government services. Our County Commissioners is requesting voter approval for a temporary six-year “lid-lift” to the county budget to help facilitate these fiscal tough times.

For 2009, the county budget tax rate was $.48 per $1,000 assessed value; the lowest in the State. Proposition 1 request would increase the tax rate to $.60 beginning 2010, still the lowest tax rate in the State.

Our county financial infrastructure is deteriorating due to too stringent tax limitations. County citizens expect government services, yet we don’t provide sufficient funds to maintain stability to provide needed services. Granted, we need to strike a balance between taxation and service rendered. However, the pendulum has swung way too far by limiting annual government property tax revenue to 1% per year.

Please support Proposition 1

Paul Dossett
Former County Assessor
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Supports County Levy Lift
Dear Editor:

I support Proposition #1 (the Tax Lid Levy Lift) for San Juan County. Here are the reasons why:

1. The Council has significantly cut expenses this past year and will have to continue to cut expenses even with the additional taxes levied. This economic situation will take all of us several years to adjust to.
2. The Council is acting extremely responsible in mandating a reserve for the future. This was in place in the past and we need to have a county “savings” account just like we all need our individual savings accounts.
3. The restriction of no more than 1% increases in our collection of taxes since 1997 has not kept pace with inflation, but the County Commission/Councils have not ever asked for an increase before. Most of the General Fund expenditures (which is the only Fund this increase applies to) are mandated by State law. The balances of the expenditures are primarily in place for services that support our base year-round population (i.e. Health Services, Sheriff, Seniors, Children).
4. I support cutting our Administrative costs even further and merging some more County departments. Even with this approach, however, the services that this lid levy will mandate support of will probably have to be cut if the Proposition is not passed.
5. Our County payroll has increased far less than the average earnings on the State and National level. The Council and the Employees are looking for ways to further cut costs while staying in compliance with mandated services. However, at some point the Employees will have to consider relocating if we continue to be so comparatively low particularly considering our Cost of Living.

The programs that will be funded by Proposition 1 are vital to our base economy. The families, workers and Seniors throughout the County need these programs to have a healthy community to live in. I am particularly concerned about the Seniors and families on Orcas and Lopez. The requirement to bring babies and pre-school children to San Juan for all their immunizations (and during restricted hours) is a huge burden.

This is not a “Blank Check”. We should continue to pressure the County Council to make more responsible financial decisions. There will be a group of Freeholders elected next year to review our Home Rule Charter. I expect there will be further changes proposed for the Charter that will provide for lower costs in the Administrative area.

Cathaleen T. Cavanagh
San Juan Island
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Supports Both Tax Increases
Letter to Editor:

I strongly support both the San Juan County Proposition 1 levy and the Island Rec levy. As islanders, we share laughter, as well as arguments, but we all care deeply about each other and our islands. I
feel both these levies represent a broad consensus to support our children, youth, families, senior citizens and the programs which directly affect the quality of life which we value.

In difficult economic times, it is especially important for our government to provide services for our community. It is also important to realize that approval of both levies will result in LOWER property
taxes, since the San Juan Island School Construction Bond tax ends in
December.

Vote YES for Proposition 1 and the Island Rec levy.

Emily Reed
San Juan Island
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Peterson vs. Petersen
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).

Richard Peterson
(Mr. Richard Peterson is the San Juan County District 2 Councilman)

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Someone In Charge?
Letter to Editor:

I was rather amused by your story on the sacrifices made by county employees in the face of a shrinking budget. The empty chair was interesting.

All the combined hours taken of by employees, and the cost savings associated with it, is less than the cost of a single employee for a year. Not much of a sacrifice.

At my company (27 full time employees) we have reduced their 40 hour work week to 33 hours. We are also in survival mode like the county. That has reduced my payroll expense by $30,000 per month. That is cost reduction of $360,000. per year. I personally have taken a salary reduction of $16,000 per year. That is how you survive a severe recession and wait for a better day.

Very unimpressive of the County. No wonder they are doing a "Hail Mary" pass with the levy lid scheme. With each employee making over $18,000 per year more than their private sector counterpart this is amazing. It makes you wonder whose steering this ship.

Sincerely,
Matt Bishop
Friday Harbor
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Good Idea To Peruse The Facts
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!

Gordy Petersen
San Juan Island
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"I LIKE paying taxes..."
Letter to Editor:

Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "I LIKE paying taxes; it's the way I buy civilization."

San Juan Island voters have an opportunity this election to buy some civilization. They can:

Guarantee county funding for 4-H, senior services, county parks, and public health -- programs that are not required by the state and therefore may be abolished if county revenues falter even more;

Continue the outstanding Island Rec programs for residents of all ages in our community; and

Support the public schools' athletic programs that can no longer be funded with the current state funding.

All of these at a cost that is less than that of the school bond which ends this year.

Please vote to Approve the two levy proposals, the county's and Island Rec's.

Louise Dustrude
Friday Harbor
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Lovel & Fralick For Tax Increase
Letter to Editor:

We support approval of the San Juan County Levy, Proposition #1. This levy, if approved by the voters, would raise property taxes by 12 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, which amounts to $60 per year on a $500,000 property, or $5 per month. This levy, on the November 3rd ballot, provides voters with the opportunity to create a local funding source for programs and services that are not mandated by State or Federal laws, but are highly valued by our community.

As newly elected members of the San Juan County Council, we have stepped into our legislative roles at a very challenging time given the current economy. Even before it was adopted, the 2009 County Current budget underwent major reductions in areas including Public Health, Parks and core services. Since we joined the Council there has been two additional rounds of budget cuts totaling almost $1 million.

In the past year, the County has reduced its workforce by 8% or a total of 23 positions and reduced the hours on 11.4% of the remaining workers. Some of these cuts were appropriate, creating greater efficiencies. However, many of the budget cuts have severely impacted valued county programs and services.

The state does not mandate the County’s funding of Parks, a specific level of public health programs, community programs such as Senior Services, and Extension programs such as 4-H and Master Gardeners. The funding level of these discretionary programs depends entirely on the community’s values and the availability of funds.

In light of the Auditor’s projection of an additional $750,000 budgetary shortfall in 2010, it is clear that non-mandated programs and services will need to be further reduced or eliminated. Rather than make these cuts unilaterally we have chosen to give the citizens a say by allowing voters to create a local mandate and fund these threatened programs by voting for a small property tax increase. The Council has been careful to draft a resolution that specifies exactly what the 12 cent levy would fund over its six-year term. This resolution is legally binding and will guarantee that the additional tax funds raised are spent on specific programs as detailed in the resolution. We believe that the tax measure is well reasoned and structured. We encourage you to join us in voting to approve the San Juan County Levy, Proposition #1.

Lovel Pratt, San Juan County Council, District 1
Richard Fralick, San Juan County Council, District 4
(No public facilities were used in making this communication)
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Vote YES for San Juan County, for Island Rec, and for our schools!
Letter to Editor:

As San Juan Island voters we have two critical levy propositions to consider as we mark our ballots for the November 3rd election. One decision is the Island Rec levy that includes support for our school sports’ program along with Island Rec events and activities for the next six years. A second decision is Proposition1 that asks voters to decide whether to approve a six-year 12 cent increase in the county property tax levy to minimize further cuts in specific community programs. Both decisions have a direct impact on the quality of life services affecting all islanders - children through seniors.

For San Juan Island voters, approval of both levies will still mean lower real estate taxes from our current level as a collection of 60 cents per $1000 in assessed valuation for school construction bonds ends this year.

With approval of Proposition 1 San Juan County Council has made a legal commitment to allocate the additional revenue raised (approximately $960,000) to the following:
• Senior Services - continue at reduced 2009 service level ($211,000)
• Health Services (53% of the way to 2008 service level ($112,000)
• Extension programs- 4H, Master Gardeners, etc ($129,000)
• Parks- keep Village Green and Shaw County Parks open ($200,000)
• County Fair support ($5,000)
• Avoid business day closures ($140,000)
• Oil Spill Association Equipment Maintenance support ($8,000)
• Emergency management support ($50,000)
• Sheriff Community Service Work ($42,000)
• Deputy Prosecuting Attorney ($45,00)
• Buildings and Grounds Maintenance ($28,000)

Your vote for Proposition 1 creates a local mandate to support these programs.
Use your vote to make a positive difference.
Use your YES vote to ensure continued services and programs that contribute to our safety, our community health and well being, and our quality of living.
Have your YES vote be to provide rather than penalize.
Vote YES for San Juan County, for Island Rec and for our schools.

Sincerely,
Carolyn Haugen
Friday Harbor
Member - Vote YES for San Juan County Committee
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Vote in favor of Proposition 1
Letter to Editor:

I am writing this letter in favor of Proposition 1, which will provide funding for Senior Services at the current pared down 2009 level. I want to tell you about some of the work that Curt Van Hyning does. Curt is the Senior Service Coordinator on San Juan Island. He currently works four days per week, but often puts in more time because there are just not enough hours in the already shortened workweek for him to do all that is requested of him.

He gets many calls from people with questions about their insurance, e.g. why didn’t my insurance cover this procedure, do I owe money to the insurance company., should I pay this bill, etc. These questions are not necessarily from people on Medicare, but from the rest of you here on this island.

He gets calls from people about to turn 65 or become disabled who want to know how Medicare works, what they should do about supplemental insurance, and what kind of medication coverage they should get.. He will be conducting some meetings regarding the drug coverage soon, and has recruited computer-savvy volunteers to help people with selecting the best coverage for them.

Curt also counsels families and individuals about designing long term care or nursing care solutions.. Many younger people are bringing their parents to the island so that they can be available when the parents need extra help. They often need assistance in finding the appropriate resources for their parents. They need to know what their insurance will cover, and they need help in finding in-home caregivers.

Curt knows about in-home caregivers because he gets calls from people who want to be caregivers. He does a background screening and looks at their qualifications and keeps a list of those people who qualify as caregivers.

He can answer questions about Medicaid, and help when that seems to be the needs resource.

He is also responsible for recruiting and training volunteers at the Mullis Center. This includes drivers to provide transportation and to deliver meals to homebound seniors., people to help with serving meals at the Center, and office volunteers. Volunteers provide over 7000 hours of help each year. With the help of Bonnie Sliger, the departmental assistant, he lends support to the volunteers as they do their work, lends medical equipment (walker, wheel chairs, crutches, etc.) and refers people to Hospice care.

He supervises the part time coordinator of the Friends and Neighbors program which, through volunteers, provides free assistance to elders needing shopping, driving to appointments, getting home repairs, etc. He recruited providers for foot care clinic, blood pressure clinic, and tax counseling. . He was responsible for setting up the balance class, where a physical therapist helps people who are in danger of falling.

He oversees the Special Needs Fund (money comes from donations) which provides short term help with daily living costs and prescription drugs. He can authorize a two week supply of a medication and then help the person apply to the manufacturer for free medications by mail . Basically he is finding out what peoples needs are and then helping them meet those needs.

What will happen if Proposition 1 if not passed? Curt will be less available to counsel people personally or by telephone. His time will be cut back considerably because these services are not paid for in any other way than by County taxes. People will have to wait longer for help, because there is not enough staff time to serve them. There will be no volunteers because recruiting and supervision of them is not paid for except by county money.

In addition to all of his other duties, Curt has written requests for funding from other sources for some of the programs, including Friends and Neighbors and the new Wednesday Lunch for All. This lunch is available to all in the community at whatever they can afford to pay and is funded through the Community Foundation.

The Mullis Center can remain open only when there is someone to monitor the building. Already the cutbacks have caused the building to be closed on Fridays. With further cutbacks in staffing by Bonnie and Curt, the building will be open less often, reducing the services that are available.

I like to think that we are a caring community, one that looks after those in need. Proposition 1 would increase our taxes, but for most of us this would amount to $60 to $100 per year. Surely $5 to $10 per month is little to ask when you see what the returns are. Senior Service is one of the eleven services that would benefit from the additional tax revenue. I urge you to vote in favor of Proposition 1.

Georgia Baciu
Friday Harbor


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