Rate hikes too painful

Utility rate hikes being proposed in Oak Harbor seem excessive, particularly considering the economic environment in which they’re being contemplated.

The City Council earlier this month heard a staff proposal to raise rates by 13.79 percent. In dollar terms, a typical homeowner would shell out another $14.50 a month for such basic services as water and sewer.

Part of the increase is attributed to the cost of doing business, including wage increases and higher costs for everything the city routinely purchases for the affected departments. But the bulk of it is to pay for necessary infrastructure projects to keep the water, sewer and stormwater systems functioning properly and legally.

City Council members should keep in mind that this proposed increase follows a similar increase levied last year.

Score the violin music as we point out that Social Security and military retirement benefits aren’t remotely keeping pace with cost of living increases. Even those residents who are still in the workforce and not on fixed incomes are having trouble keeping up with the soaring cost of food, gasoline and other utilities. Puget Sound Energy, for example, is asking for a 10 percent hike in what it charges for electricity. Unless there are bosses handing out 15 percent annual COLA increases we haven’t heard about, nobody’s income is keeping up with inflation.

City Council members no doubt are in the same boat as other city residents, grumbling every month as new, higher, bills come due. So they should have no trouble commiserating with the average citizen in Oak Harbor.

Of course, the need for the infrastructure improvement projects isn’t going away, so the City Council can’t just halve the proposed increase and wait for the resulting public adulation. Rising costs have to be addressed in other ways than just rate increases.

The Mayor and City Council should first study city operations. Are they being conducted as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible? Are there money saving ideas that haven’t been explored, and is staffing at proper levels in all departments? Perhaps department heads should be giving cost-saving goals and required to reach them, as happens in private business during tough times.

Once savings are squeezed out of the city’s own budget, look for other revenue sources. Perhaps it’s time to consider enhancing existing impact fees or levying new ones. Developers will cry foul, but the City Council’s first duty is to the citizens of Oak Harbor, not special interests.

The city’s leadership is in better shape than it’s been in years with an influx of talented people in recent months with vast experience in private business. It’s time to put that talent to use for the people of Oak Harbor.

Turn it off

next week

Whidbey Island parents would be wise to see that their children participate in Turnoff Week April 21 to 27.

Formerly called TV Turnoff Week, the updated name is a reminder that there’s plenty more to turn off these days than just the TV set. In fact, the days when kids spent hours glued to the TV seem almost quaint in retrospect. At least you could see them, and see what they were watching. Now, many kids shun the TV for the computer screen, whether it be for games, keeping track of friends, viewing interesting sites, or generally anything but doing homework. Untold hours are wasted online, or in front of the High Definition TV, chatting and texting on the cell phone, or idly spending hours going through the thousands of songs in an iPod’s memory.

For one week at least, kids should have to know what it’s like in the real world.

Fortunately, kids will find the real world anything but boring. The Oak Harbor Library, working with Island County Public Health, has a lengthy list of entertaining activities for kids, and merchants are being sought to offer discounted merchandise and services. Not that kids have to be entertained every second. Parents probably have Turnoff Week ideas of their own involving housework, homework and good old-fashioned outdoor play.

If you would like to help with the Turnoff Week effort, call Whitney Webber at Public Health, 240-5554 ext. 30. It’s a worthy effort. Too bad it lasts only a week.

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