Lesson learned: Government can be unfair | Sound Off
June 17, 2011 · Updated 1:21 PM
By Kelly Emerson
Island County commissioner
There is a lot of truth to the saying, “You win some, and you lose some.” For someone new to public service, I’ve learned a lot in my first “semester” as a freshman Island County commissioner. In the same token, I feel I’ve contributed substantially to the debate, and am hopeful we’re introducing a healthy dose of fiscal sanity to our county government. Here’s an update on our progress.
First, it’s starting to sink in that our budgets in the next few years may be even harder to balance than they are now. We cannot bank on higher revenues to buoy us from turbulent fiscal tides. Second, with that austere outlook in mind, we are preparing the county to make do with a lot less. Finally, I believe stewardship of the taxpayers’ treasury to be paramount. That’s why I’m fighting to preserve core services, and not to expand them further. I believe we can do all of this, without increasing the tax burden on our families and small businesses.
As one example, we can freeze the Conservations Futures collection, without any effect on current services. A freeze would halt the growth of county acquisitions of private, taxpaying land. In better economic times, collection can be reinstated, but with a renewed focus on conservation – not making the county into a property baron. As for those funds currently held in Conservation Futures, I say, let’s sit on those eggs a little longer.
Just three years ago, the State Legislature allowed some counties to put on the ballot an option to use Conservation Futures for other government services. If the economy necessitates it, we should take that up for consideration, rather than raising taxes.
Finally, my husband Ken and I are still pursuing legal remedies in controversial actions taken against us by county officials last year. The lawsuit we filed centered on an arbitrary decision to designate some of our backyard a wetland, the timing of which was not coincidentally during the height of my campaign. As it turns out, the licensed hydrogeologist we hired assures us there are no such “wetlands” on our property.
While our case was dismissed in late May, we may yet be bankrupted by the county’s decision to levy $500 a day fines. As we decide how to proceed from here, I ask for your continued patience and confidence. To be sure, we view the actions against us as an assault on the very same property and individual rights that I’m fighting every day to defend on the commission.
In sum, I have learned many lessons in the short time I’ve entered public service. Perhaps the most important is that while we all hope government is on our side, the reality is it can be overbearing and unfair. Few elected officials get such a close look at how that can happen. I have, and it encourages me to fight even harder for you, and those who feel they don’t have a voice in county government. I invite you to contact me about the budget, property rights or any issue you care about, and look forward to updating you as my term continues.
Kelly Emerson represents District 3, including Camano Island and the northern part of Whidbey, on the Board of Island County Commissioners.