Opinion

Toward more efficiency in the new year | Editorial

Anticipate revenue to come in lower than expected and budget accordingly. If revenue comes in higher and you have money left over at the end of the year, put that in reserve for future major expenses.

Sounds like a good policy for all local governments, not just in lean times but all times.

Take the Town of Friday Harbor, for example. Without the money it has in reserves to pay for major capital expenses, the town would be forced to borrow more money to pay for those projects, and you’d pay even higher utility rates to pay that debt.

Sales and lodging tax revenues are coming in a little lower than last year. But the town expenses will still come in on budget, because the town — with the guidance of the town treasurer — anticipated lower revenues this year and budgeted accordingly.

There are, of course, differences in how the county and town must deliver public services — the county serves a county of unconnected islands, the town serves an area of one square mile. But the philosophy behind budgeting applies to all.

Here are some other financial moves we’d like to see our local governments make for efficiency’s sake in the coming year:

1. Raise the county’s sales tax .01 percent to support local mental health services. Right now, San Juan County’s sales tax is the fourth-lowest in the state. This increase, from 7.7 percent to 7.8 percent, would equal 1 cent for every $10 spent. What the community will get is $350,000 a year to expand existing mental health services and chemical dependency treatment programs, as well as coordinate and oversee the treatment of parents and families involved in child-dependency hearings. This is proactive and compassionate.

2. Become compliant with the Growth Management Act. This should be priority No. 1. The county is close to compliance; it is working on issues related to the Eastsound and Lopez Village urban growth areas, and the stormwater utility is another issue that, when resolved, will resolve a compliance issue.

Non-compliance costs the county money because it affects its eligibility for grants and loans. For example, the county had applied for a grant to recoup $1 million it paid for a public dock at Orcas Landing. Because of non-compliance in all areas of the Growth Management Act, it qualifies only for $350,000.

3. Explore possible uses of government-owned land. The county wants to own a waste transfer station, and the town owns one. Both own a lot of other land as well.

These entities should meet, inventory their holdings and discuss ways that the land could be used for the public benefit. Are there any county needs that could be met with town land, and vice versa?

Surplus land could then be sold, the proceeds put in the public treasury and the property put back on the tax rolls.

The port district should be involved because some of its holdings could provide some options.

The San Juan Island Parks and Recreation District — better known as Island Rec — should also be involved. The former gravel pit could be a major missed opportunity. A trail from town to the former gravel pit to Jackson’s Beach could be a major draw for visitors, especially day-trippers and ferry walk-ons.

4. Make Land Bank a partner in ag resources, noxious weed control. The Land Bank is already a manager of agricultural resources and a steward of open space.

As you read this, the Land Bank is requesting proposals from anyone interested in a long-term agricultural lease of its King Sisters Property. Land stewards manage Turtleback Mountain and other open space owned by the Land Bank.

Ag resources and noxious weed control, which are threatened with cuts in the county budget, would benefit from the Land Bank’s resources. They’re a good fit.

5. Keep our day parks open. The county is considering “closing” several day parks as cost-saving measures. But those so-called closures will certainly increase costs.

Closure of the day parks will mean no sanitation facilities and no regular care and monitoring of the sites.

“There is simply no way that the county would be able to prevent people from accessing the park without a 24-hour police presence,” some residents write in a letter to the editor in today’s edition.

“And given that the public sanitation facilities at Reuben Tarte and Eagle Cove would be eliminated, the expected illicit use would also result in unsanitary conditions, thereby increasing clean-up costs and causing public health problems.”

Also proposed: the closure of the public restroom in Eastsound Village Square. Not a good move in a tourism-based economy.

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