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Voters say finances tight
"Death by a thousand cuts. That's how some Whidbey residents view the current system of funding government through sales taxes, bonds and levies. And with three tax increases slated for local ballots by this September, many are taking a dim view of some, if not all of them. In fact, said Oak Harbor resident Joseph Thompson, if the system doesn't change soon, a citizen tax revolt could be in the offing that will make I-695 seem like small potatoes.People are going to wake up, just like they did during the Boston Tea Party, Thompson said last Thursday. The British kept taxing and taxing and people finally got fed up.Thompson, who said he was taxed out of California, moved to Whidbey in 1970. Back then, property taxes on his $56,000 house were $300 per year. Currently, his property taxes are more than $1,700 per year. And it's not just property taxes that cut his income as the proprietor of an antique/upholstery shop, Thompson adds. He pays federal taxes, taxes at the grocery store, at the gas pump, the restaurant; on his phone bill, long distance bill, utility bill. Hidden taxes, ones that people pay for, but don't necessarily see.All of which is adding to a general unrest among voters, according Island County Auditor Susanne Sinclair.I think that's part of the frustration that people have with current taxation is that it seems that it comes at them from each direction and its very hard for them to tell where it goes and it just appears that they're throwing money into this black pit.''Thompson, 79, is adamantly opposed to the proposed Oak Harbor School levy. At $1.47 per $1,000 of assessed value if passed, it would add another $286 to his yearly property tax bill, pushing it over $2,000 per year level.If the levy passes, more than 56 percent of my taxes would go to schools and I think that's ridiculous, Thompson says. I'd like to retire some day.Lindsey Anderson on the other hand, would support the school levy if she lived in Oak Harbor. But the young homemaker and mother of two girls lives in Clinton, where another school levy recently passed on its second try.Anderson was in Oak Harbor last Thursday because she can stretch her family's food budget further here. One that has been stretched increasingly tighter lately.Especially after this gas increase, which really took a bite out of our household income, Anderson said.As for levies, Anderson is taking a more discerning look at each one that comes up on a ballot.For schools, I don't mind. I'm willing to pay whatever it takes to make them better, she said. But I do feel taxed out.Credibility is a problem for Jess and Sarah McKnight.Out grocery shopping with their 4-year-old daughter and 17-month-old son Thursday, the young couple said that rarely is there much left over from Jess' Navy paycheck at the end of month.They own a small townhouse in Oak Harbor, and pay more than $1,000 in property taxes each year.Nodding in the direction of his grocery cart, Jess said he wasn't sure if he'd vote for either the school levy or the proposed increase in sales taxes to support Island Transit.I like the free bus rides but I don't use them that much, he said. And if they're gonna raise my taxes again just for people to get a free bus ride, I think that maybe enough is enough.Like Anderson, the McKnights want a better accounting of how the money will be used before they vote to increase their tax burden. But in their case, the school levy is not a given just because money will go to schools.We're skeptical about how the money's being spent now, Jess said. Things are tight and you don't want to give out more money if you don't know if it's buying new desks for people in offices downtown or new books for the kids in classes.Regardless of how Oak Harbor taxpayers vote for a school levy or sales tax increase for Island Transit this month, chances are they'll get the opportunity to vote for more levies, sales tax increases and bond issues many more times.According to the Island County Auditor's Office, 36 bond and levy issues have been put before Whidbey Island voters since 1994. This year so far, there has been one a month."