"Oak Harbor chips in $5,000 for I-695 fight"
July 3, 2008 · Updated 12:28 PM
"While they still haven't passed this year's budget, the Oak Harbor City Council voted Tuesday to contribute $5,000 to a lawsuit that challenges and asks for clarification of voter-passed Initiative 695. Meanwhile, arguments in the lawsuit, as well as six other consolidated lawsuits against the initiative, were heard in a King County Superior Court this week.Oak Harbor City Attorney Phil Bleyhl said Superior Court Judge Robert Alsdorf has 30 days to make a decision in the cases, but either side is expected to appeal his decision to the state Supreme Court, which will likely accept discretionary review.Bleyhl said that the city isn't officially joining in the lawsuit, but lending monetary and moral support. The council's decision to contribute to the lawsuit was unanimous, though Councilmembers Paul Brewer, Sheilah Crider and Mayor Patty Cohen were absent.Although he supports the decision to contribute to the lawsuit, Councilman John LaFond said he was surprised that there was such solid support behind it.After all, it may seem to some that the council is going against the wishes of the taxpayers by using their money to fight a popular initiative they voted to approve.Obligating large sums of money that we do not have for lawsuits against the majority of people they govern ought to be illegal if not immoral, Oak Harbor resident Ken Kelly wrote in a letter to the News-Times.The civil suit was brought by Bremerton, Bainbridge Island and Lakewood. Glenna Malanca, the city attorney for Bremerton, addressed the City Council in February and asked for a contribution to the lawsuit. She suggested $11,000, which is the cost of a special election.I-695 repealed the state's Motor Vehicle Tax, replacing it with a flat $30 fee, and requires that governmental entities get voter approval through an election to raise any taxes.Interim City Supervisor Doug Merriman said the city administration asked the council to contribute the money not to fight the initiative, but to get it clarified by the courts.He said it's a good investment for the city because the issue of what constitutes a tax increase is very unclear. For example, he said it's unclear whether the city could raise library fees without a vote of the people. The only way to test it would be to go ahead and raise the fees and wait to see is anyone challenges it in court. Defending against those kinds issues, he said, would be costly for the city.The council members had more than just clarification in mind.Councilman Rex Hankins said he believes that the initiative was essentially illegal and should be overturned. He agrees with the lawsuit's argument that I-695 was improper because it deals with two issues. Under state law, an initiative can only cover one topic.In addition, Hankins said the initiative takes away elected officials constitutional rights to make taxations decisions.What I'm saying is that the taxpayers made a mistake, he said.LaFond said he believes that a vast number of people who voted for I-695 wanted the reduction in car tabs, but not the second part of the initiative or the cuts in city services that will likely result. In addition, he said the Navy is concerned about the affect the initiative will have an transportation, particularly buses and ferries. As the major economic force in the island, the Navy base and his vitality is a major concern for city leaders. Merriman said that transportation is one of the important issues the Navy looks at when making decisions about base closures.In addition, LaFond pointed out that the initiative only passed on Oak Harbor by a small margin of barely 50 votes.I don't believe it was an overwhelming mandate, he said. At least not in Oak Harbor.Because of I-695, the city will lose about $777,000 a year in state funds. City leaders have not made any final decisions about how to balance the budget with the 10 percent loss, but they are scheduled to look at budget amendments at the April 4 meeting."