Opinion

Another crunch on the numbers

Janus, the two-headed Roman god, looks to the future and to the past. - Contributed photo
Janus, the two-headed Roman god, looks to the future and to the past.
— image credit: Contributed photo

By Glenn Kaufman

In July, the Journal published a piece by the president of the library's board of trustees, in which she remarked she had heard people “repeatedly” say that San Juan County had the highest property tax rate in the state.

Subsequently, she assigned herself the task of verifying the accuracy of this hearsay and discovered otherwise.

In 2010, San Juan County had an average property tax rate of $4.88 per thousand of assessed valuation, indeed, the lowest in the state.

This info was mined from the state Department of Revenue's statistical division. It is correct — gospel.

Still, had she dug deeper in the interest of, “. . . information we all need as voters”, she would have uncovered other gems, inconvenient though they might have been.

First, using assessed values as of Jan. 1, 2010, San Juan County had the highest per capita assessed value in the state, an astonishing $515,981; better than four times the state average of $122,524, with second place Jefferson County, at $181,483, almost thrice lapped.

In such a circumstance, you don't need but a low tax rate to scoop up all the revenue legally required to fill all the taxing bodies' pots to the max.

The assumption reasonably shouldn't be made that because a tax rate is low, that taxpayers are getting off the hook, because...

Second, in 2011, the county levied $43.4 million in property taxes or, using the 2010 census, $2,756 for every man, woman and child. Property tax payers in this county are supporting their institutions at a per-capita-rate better than twice the state average of $1,360, our closest rival being King County, at $1,763.

Third, the county in 2011 levied $1.8 million for its three tax-supported libraries. We grabbed honors again at $114.32 per capita, with No. 2 Klickitat County finishing way back at $82.07. The state average? Admittedly, not a very respectable $39.57 per.

In isolating the San Juan library, you find for 2011, with an island population of 7,662 and a levy of $865,082, the library's support equals $112.90 per capita. Using an estimate of the library's newly enhanced haul of $1,263,579, as prepared by former county assessor Paul Dossett, the library will take down almost $165 per, beginning in 2012.

That's four times the 2011 state average.

On Aug. 3, the advocacy group Islanders for San Juan Library said that voters chose in 1993 to set the library's property tax rate at 50 cents of the then current assessed valuation, but by 2011 it had decreased to 27 cents.

Again, with a rising cumulative assessed valuation, as cited above, this is correct. But positing this statistic tends to give an impression that the library is being shortchanged, when in reality the library has received every nickel to which it is legally entitled.

This latter fact should have been uppermost in the minds of voters when ballots were marked, not a lonesome verity or statistical irrelevance.

Under these circumstances voters were not so much misinformed as ill-informed, for which I blame their detachment, indifference and gullibility, more than the citing artfully selected truths by proponents.

The ancient Romans had a god named Janus, who has two heads set in opposite directions, giving him an ability to review the past while foreseeing the future, or so the Romans thought.

It does not take much in the way of clairvoyance to imagine the buzz all the taxing bodies in the county intercepted from the library's coup.

For example, the San Juan School Board has announced a run for a maintenance levy early in the new year, in which it will try to bag something on the order of twice what it collared four years ago.

Admittedly, to argue against maintaining your infrastructure is shortsighted, but by the magnitude of its reach the school board has added a confounding element.

Perhaps the best policy for voters is to resolve to defeat an issue on the first go-round so that a board can recover its sensibility, give some consideration to broader economic conditions and moderate its demands.

It might consider that county employees took unpaid furloughs to help balance the budget the past two years, and 23 were laid off to boot.

Of course we now have a gold standard library where the sacked can come in from the cold seven days a week, so that's all right then.

— A retired farmer from McMinnville, Ore., Glenn Kaufman moved to San Juan Island 13 years ago.

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