10/09/2008: "The Urge"
The urge to spend creates the need to tax. Our Council overspent this year’s budget. Now they need to find creative new ways to tax us. Remember last year when voters rejected the storm water tax? It’s back.
The Council has made it clear that they intend to pass this tax in some form within the next 30 days and that it will not be subject to a vote of the people through the referendum process. It was turned down 62-31% last year. The amount they want to charge us now has increased significantly. The Council’s decision to tax us again does not represent the will of the people. They have simply spent too much and want more.
In the previous storm water ordinance the so-called “service” we got for the fee was the existing roadside ditches that we’ve already paid for from the road fund. Storm water problems originate with impervious surfaces that block rain from soaking into the ground. Roads make up a large part of the impervious surface in the County. Roadside ditches catch the runoff and divert it into areas that can absorb it. Ditches and culverts were constructed with money from the road fund. All the defined projects in the Public Works Capital Investment Plan are around roads. So it makes sense that money to fix the storm water problem should come out of the road fund.
There are two problems with using the road fund:
1) According to State law road funds are not supposed to be used to handle non-road runoff.
2) Because of some recent withdrawals the road fund is short.
To get around the first obstacle the County needs to convince us that runoff from houses in rural areas has created a big storm water problem that is overflowing the ditches and creating widespread flooding but the evidence to support this is lacking. It is hard to take this seriously when it’s obvious that rural landowners are being forced to pay for construction of expensive facilities that promote growth in urban areas. This will require a good spin job to sell because if we look at the budget we know that the money will be spent in urban growth areas, not in rural areas where few improvements are planned.
Let’s follow the money. This year the Council voted to “borrow” $2 million from the road fund to fix the storm water problems in Eastsound. We were told repeatedly that GMA compliance required immediate action to improve Eastsound’s storm water infrastructure. The loan was approved to keep the GMA board from imposing a building moratorium in Eastsound.
The total amount budgeted for this project is $1.756 million. The Public Works Department took $782k from us (45% of this project’s cost) in 2007 and spent all of it. According to the figures above we should expect the project to be about 45% completed with 2 million more to draw upon. Sadly, this is not the case.
The progress report on the Eastsound Capital Improvement Plan is poor. Only a small fraction of the work has been done. Some progress has been made on only one of many planned projects. No permits have been filed so far. There is really no visible progress toward solving any storm water problems in Eastsound.
The biggest problem that many people have is that they lack confidence in the Public Works department to actually spend our money to solve specific problems. Instead the money is spent on other things.
To make matters worse the road fund is short because of irresponsible spending by the Council. They recently voted to take another $3 million from the road fund to buy the old dock at Orcas Landing. The Council members are rudely tapping the taxpayers on the shoulder again with their hand out demanding more money to fix storm water problems. Their urge to spend has created the need to tax. My question is this, if they insist on this kind of irresponsible spending why should we give them more?
I really believe it is time to reign in the spending spree that has caused the need to tax the citizens of San Juan County at the highest per capita rate in the State of Washington.