By Judah Finney
As you consider how to vote on the Parks and Rec Levy this month, here are a few thoughts from my own research on the issue.
The parks levy will expire this year, unless voters approve its renewal. But the proposition on the ballot is no simple renewal: it sets the levy at 38.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, four cents more than twice the existing rate of 17 cents.
In 2014, the assessed value of all properties in the district was around $2.5 billion, meaning about $425,000 a year for Island Rec under the 17-cent levy. That amount would jump to more than $960,000. Is this cause for slight pause? I think so.
How will the new funding be spent?
Out of the 38.5 cents, 18.5 cents would go toward recreational programs (up by 8.5 cents), 12 cents to the high school sports program (a 5-cent increase), and there is a new portion, 8 cents, for upkeep of the new community ball field off Carter Avenue. (Since 2009, all funding for the high school sports program has come from a 7-cent portion of the Parks and Rec levy. If the vote is “No,” there will be no funding—unless and until another source is set up.)
Another factor in all this is a mistake in the county tax assessor’s office, which over the course of three years gave Island Rec $377,000 more than the voters had authorized. The district now must pay that sum back to them. And guess what? They want the same ill-used taxpayers to pitch in like good chaps and help pay themselves back.
Makes sense, right? Like ketchup in coffee it does.
Enough facts. Let me ask you a question.
Why look to government to supply our every want and need? Particularly since that always means agreeing to higher and higher taxes to allow it to do so.
Here is my suggestion. If the school chooses not to fund its sports program, as every other high school in Washington state does, let a private association of people who want to see that program continue figure out a way to fund it.
Let our children see a community voluntarily provide for school athletics (Let the children do some fundraising themselves, for Pete’s sake.) Let kids play without Big Sister hanging over their shoulder. She isn’t much fun anyhow. Even the beautiful parks that adorn our own “precious stone set in the silver sea” could be better cared for by the community, through private associations.
Just think—what’s the worst that could happen if the levy vote is “No?” I assure you, whatever does happen, the sky will not fall. Perhaps another levy proposal with a smaller rate? Or the school deciding to do its own job again?
It’s rewarding to do things yourself, to figure out a solution to whatever situation is in front of you, with some friends and neighbors perhaps, and maybe do some fundraising, and to spend every hard-earned penny from that fundraising on the actual costs of the project instead of bureaucratic paraphernalia.
But to go to government for the answer to everything robs you of that healthy satisfaction. Simply to keep voting ever-higher taxes is the boring, yawn-and-pop-another-placebo way out.
San Juan Island, and the youth of San Juan, deserve better.
— Editor’s note: A second-generation islander, Judah Finney works in the local building trades.