We in Island County are facing the same problems that are being seen country wide. Loss of local funding from the Federal and State governments is going to be hitting us even harder in the future than they are today so what are we here in Island County going to do? Loss of sales tax revenue, loss of Federal and State funding is all apparently going to fall on the shoulders of property owners here in the county with a new property tax levy request unless something else is done.
We have a sheriffs department that is understaffed and under funded, we have a prosecutors office that is also facing severe shortages in funding necessary to function as needed. We will no doubt see another ballot measure in the near future designed to take care of these shortfalls but is this the true answer to our problems? Is more taxpayer dollars always the answer?
Taxpayer incomes have dropped the most in the past 20 years and money left over after taxes have taken the biggest plunge since 1959 so the concept of the people being willing to step up and take another chunk out of their budget to fund these necessary programs is doubtful.
We have seen some progress with our County Commissioners but not enough. They have voted to rescind the unpopular recycling program. There is some talk of rescinding the clean water utility but even if this is to be done will this be enough to fund the basic county services that we all feel is the primary responsibility of our local government? I do not believe it will. Most of these programs are fee based and the loss of the program also means loss of the fees that paid for them. This does very little to reduce the size and cost of our government although it does reduce the fees paid by county residents freeing up taxpayer dollars to spend elsewhere.
We need to look at all areas of our county government. A leaner meaner county government that delivers basic services is the duty of our local government and an absolute necessity in these trying fiscally troubling times. We need to uphold the principle of our county government delivering these basic services before all others.
The 2 largest item in our counties budget is Salaries and Benefits (41%) and Maintenance and Operations (36%) and as these are the largest budget expenditures we have these are the areas that we should concentrate on to give us the most savings. It is never popular to talk Salaries and Benefits but it has to be done. We need to look closely at the pay and benefits packages that we are currently giving county employees to make sure that they are equitable and sustainable into the future. Maintenance and Operations needs to be looked at closely to ensure the services they deliver are the primary services that we have entrusted our government to deliver.
All areas of our county budget should be looked at to reduce taxpayer overload. As an example we can use our Parks and Recreation Department. Do we really need 3,372 acres of park land that is maintained by the county? With other government entities having and maintaining over 10,654 acres of park and recreation land here on the Islands is it necessary to be spending what we do to duplicate what other government entities are funding? Can some savings be gained from the Parks and Recreation Department to help fund necessary service like Law and Justice and create less of a burden on the property tax payers here on the Islands? Are there also other departments in the county that do not deliver basic services that can be pared back to free up necessary funding needed for basic services? I do believe there is.
These are the questions we need to be asking our elected officials and insisting that they look at first to maintain our basic services so they are not dependent on coming to the taxpayers for another bail out to maintain those basic mandated services.
It’s time our commissioners make a list of all county programs and their costs and then rank them according to mandated law and need of the citizens. That way we will be making rational decisions based on facts and the needs of the citizenry and not the needs of a few.