SOUND OFF: Our taxes help other counties

A tsunami is coming Island County’s way. Its first ripples are already washing ashore. But this will not be a natural disaster; instead, it will be man-made. It is truly shameful to think — but because of our state’s antiquated funding system, a county with 75,000 residents, within the Seattle metropolitan commute, will soon be unable to afford 24-hour police protection.

A down-turning economy, lowering interest rates and un-funded state mandates have made this a certainty.

No amount of reorganization, processing or out-of-the-box thinking will change the fact that when the tidal wave hits on Jan. 1, 2003, your Island County government will need to operate with 11 percent less funding.

“Good,” some of you may say. “We’re tired of paying for a bunch of bloated bureaucracies and too many government workers.” That’s a sentiment I share whenever I gaze jealously at the hefty budgets and manpower levels of neighboring jurisdictions and state agencies.

Unfortunately, here in Island County, there is only gristle left to amputate. Yours is not a local government with fat in its budget.

Within your Island County Sheriff’s Office, a decade of starvation budgets has left us emaciated. Even now, it is a daily challenge to provide round-the-clock law enforcement on Whidbey and Camano Islands. Come Jan. 1, it will be impossible.

What this means to you, as we grapple with a $2 million hole in the county’s $18 millon budget, is the likelihood that there will be times, every day, when no peace officers will be on duty — rather, during these times, deputies will be “on call,” having already worked their regular shifts. Further, the vehicles your deputy sheriffs drive will soon age well beyond the safe limits for operating them at emergency speeds. Thus, a deputy’s response times, even to life-and-death situations, may well change from a matter of minutes, to hours.

I am heartsick. Together — your watchful eyes and our dedicated deputies — we have made Island County one of the safest places to live in the United States. Now we are in jeopardy of losing this peaceable existence, unless drastic changes are made in how counties in Washington are funded.

You see, money to operate your local jail, courtrooms and the Sheriff’s Office, along with public health nurses and parks, comes from only three main sources: sales tax, use fees and permits, and a 7 percent sliver of your property taxes. Unfortunately, because most major retailers, car dealers and manufacturers lie beyond our county’s borders, the taxes collected on purchases you make there, stay there… and go to fund deputies, parks and courtrooms in those counties. This is YOUR tax money, and it should go to fund YOUR local county government.

Hence, raising taxes here in Island County is not the solution to our dire situation. You are already paying your fair share. What we must do is find a way to compel the state to return the money that is rightfully ours.

Nowadays, technology is so sophisticated, it should be a simple matter for an Island County resident, making a purchase elsewhere, to simply provide their Zip code to the store clerk. Many businesses already do this for their own marketing purposes. The sales tax collected could thus be returned to your home county, where it is so desperately needed.

It is time for your state officials to hear from you. The U.S. Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law, and no taxation without representation. But in Washington state, it ain’t necessarily so.

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