This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.
Voters in Eatonville, Auburn, Gig Harbor and Federal Way should have received their ballots by now for the April 17 special election. They’re being asked to fund school operations, roads, and fire and emergency service.
The News Tribune supports all of the ballot measures except the one for Gig Harbor Fire and Medic One. That one would increase the current levy payment by 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation – and make the increase permanent.
Like most local service providers, the Gig Harbor department has felt the pain of reduced property tax revenues during the recession. But voters should be wary of an attempt to solve a short-term revenue problem with a permanent tax increase.
The levy is something of a surprise to many voters, which is another concern. If a permanent increase is truly needed, district officials should have spent more time laying the groundwork. Since the current levy does not expire for two more years, the district still has time to make its case.
Even then, permanent levies deserve extra scrutiny. There’s nothing wrong with having to defend spending decisions to voters every few years. If funds are being spent wisely, voters tend to be supportive – especially of vital fire and emergency service levies.
Other measures on the April 17 ballot:
• Eatonville School District – In February, district voters rejected a four-year operations levy that would have increased property taxes from $3.29 per $1,000 of valuation to more than $4. The district heard voters’ concerns about higher taxes and has pared the levy down to two years and an increase to $3.65 per $1,000 valuation – adding about $72 per year in taxes for the owner of a $200,000 home. It has also dropped a proposal to go to a four-day school week.
Voters should approve this levy, which makes up about 21 percent of the district’s revenue. It would help fund teachers, support staff, technology, materials, maintenance, student activities (including sports and arts) and bus service. Failure likely would mean painful cuts that would hurt the quality of education in Eatonville.
• City of Auburn – A successful six-year levy in 2004, Save Our Streets, funded residential street projects in Auburn. Now voters are being asked to approve SOS Phase II – a $59 million, 20-year bond issue for improvements to high-traffic arterials.
The owner of a $250,000 home would see an annual tax increase of $36 to $96 in years one through five, $96 to $113 in years six to 15 and declining taxes thereafter.
State funding for local roads has declined sharply in recent years, and little federal money is available. So if Auburn’s arterials are to be improved, local money must be raised. This measure appears to be well planned by the city with input from a community task force and will have citizen oversight through an advisory board. Voters should approve it.
• South King Fire & Rescue – The fire district that serves Federal Way and Des Moines is asking voters to approve a four-year excess levy to help make up for a 22 percent drop in revenues since 2009. It would cost the owner of a $200,000 home about $58 more in property taxes per year.
The Fire Department has taken a number of cost-cutting steps, including 23 staff reductions, wage freezes, and cuts or elimination of programs. Approval of the excess levy would allow the department to maintain current services and personnel and to restaff one aid unit that had been closed. Levy failure would likely mean yet more cuts to the department – and slower emergency medical response times.
The department has been a good steward of taxpayers’ money. Voters should approve the excess levy.