Island County Commissioner Kelly Emerson, a self-described tea party Republican, has repeatedly claimed that the county has money in the budget to finance law-and-justice departments to the level officials in those offices believe is necessary. The sheriff alone asked for a $1.4 million increase in his budget for 2013.
The county’s Law and Justice Council, which is made up of a wide range of officials and citizens, studied the issue of underfunding, found there is a need and recommended that the county commissioners ask voters to pass a special sales tax to fund cops and courts.
Emerson voted against the recommendation, arguing that the money is there if her fellow commissioners will just stop spending tax dollars on programs that aren’t necessary. The other two commissioners, both Democrats, also voted against the proposal, citing a confusing mix of concerns, including the timing of a ballot measure.
Emerson has implied that the planning department receives an unfair share of the general fund and suggested turning the juvenile detention facility into an adult jail that can rent out cells to other jurisdictions. Yet we haven’t heard anything truly comprehensive. After Emerson was first elected, she said she needed time to learn before getting specific about the budget. Fair enough, but it’s been two years and the time is ripe. The budget is being written right now.
We urge Commissioner Emerson to write her own version of the general fund budget. In the last four years, we’ve heard over and over again from the other commissioners and department heads that there’s no more blood left in the proverbial turnip to squeeze. Yet many in the community want to hear another perspective and it’s one that Emerson can offer.
Some may argue that it’s a useless exercise since she’s bound to be outvoted on the board. We disagree. A specific proposal would undoubtedly spur a community dialogue about the priorities of government in a very precise way, in contrast to the usual platitudinal arguments. What exact positions should be cut? What programs should go away? Does the sheriff really need an extra $1.4 million?
In addition, it would be instructive to know what the four candidates for the two county commissioners would think about such a budget. The two candidates who win in November will be writing the budget in the future.