Opinion

What we have ahead of us if Prop. 1 fails | Guest Column

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 statements in bold below are from Gordy Petersen’s Oct. 7 column:

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 — $2,760. 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 million 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 11 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).

— Rich Peterson is chairman of the San Juan County Council. He represents San Juan North.

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