A message to Mayor-elect Lacher | Editorial

This page, commemorating the election of the town
This page, commemorating the election of the town's first woman mayor, is included in this week's Journal of the San Juan Islands.
— image credit: Page designed by Rebecca Cook

Congratulations to Mayor-elect Carrie Lacher. As the first woman elected mayor of Friday Harbor, she completes an important chapter in the town’s history.

Now the hard work begins. Major challenges loom, particularly how to meet infrastructure needs amid declining revenues. Programs, services and employee hours are proposed to be cut to make the 2010 town budget balance.

If she follows through on her campaign pledges, and continues a collaborative approach to tough issues, her mayoralty could be distinguished by its successes. But she’ll have to be courageous.

Here’s a course we’d like the new mayor to take:

1. Bring back the Legislative Agenda. Formerly, the Town Council established a Legislative Agenda for the year — a list of priorities brought by and agreed to by the council. The Legislative Agenda focused attention on issues that needed to be addressed, and the council monitored the progress on those issues during the year.

2. Establish a funding source for streets. The Street Department and the Fire Department are funded by the town’s Current Fund, which derives its revenue from sales tax as well as property tax, leasehold tax and fees. Here are some options:

— Option A. Encourage residents to allow the Friday Harbor Fire Department to become part of the San Juan County District 3 Fire Department. The sales tax revenue that currently supports the town fire department, $447,425 in 2010, could be transferred to street improvements.

Town property owners would have to pay the same tax levy for fire services as out-of-town residents: 42.8 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation (that’s $128.40 for a $300,000 home).

This newspaper has editorialized in the past that merging the departments didn’t have enough value for town residents. It does now.

— Option B. Leave the fire department as is, and ask property owners for a property tax increase, with the money earmarked for streets.

Of Washington towns and cities, Friday Harbor’s property tax rate is the fifth-lowest in the state. In 2009, the rate was 74.4 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation. Voters could raise that amount, earmarking the money for street improvements.

3. Consider postponing certain capital improvements, such as enlarging the Trout Lake dam, to stave off water rate increases. The Town Council should determine which projects are necessary, and which can be postponed. The town has an effective water conservation program. Raising the dam 7 feet would increase the amount of water available for the town by 62 million gallons a year. But going into the rainy season, Trout Lake was holding 380,848,893 gallons Nov. 3; the lake’s total storage is 468,216,384 gallons.

4. Be “a very visible presence” at the Association of Washington Cities, which represents Washington’s cities and towns before the state Legislature, the state executive branch and regulatory agencies. “That presence is critical to keep Friday Harbor on Olympia’s radar,” she said during the campaign. We agree. She could take the lead in building an alliance of ferry served communities in this region, to ensure the region has a collective political voice on transportation issues.

5. Take a look at safety in the Harbor Ridge mobile home neighborhood on Roche Harbor Road. Lacher and fellow mayoral candidate Robert Low have expressed concern about safety in that neighborhood. Low, who served as town fire chief and fire marshal before his current job, thinks the neighborhood is a fire hazard. Lacher is concerned about the density and condition of mobile homes in the neighborhood. Harbor Ridge is zoned multi-family, which means 14 homes per acre can be built there. There are 64 homes there now, according to Town Administrator King Fitch. But at 15.40 acres, some 215 homes could be built or placed there under current zoning.

6. Meet with residents of the Evergreen neighborhood. A long-ago Town Council relaxed development standards there, presumably so the developer could make the homes more affordable. Today’s homeowners there are paying the price with poor storm drainage and deteriorating streets.

Low said he and his neighbors have mostly felt neglected by the town; Mayor David Jones and then-Councilman Kelley Balcomb-Bartok were to meet with neighbors last year, but that meeting never took place. Lacher should meet with Evergreen neighborhood residents and begin the process of working together on a solution.

In closing, we must say that Lacher and Low conducted fine campaigns. Issues and ideas were discussed. Now, the work begins.

To the mayor-elect, congratulations.

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