EDITORIAL: County should maintain services

Much caterwauling is emanating from Coupeville as Island County’s commissioners hold hearing on how to cut the budget next year. Using existing revenues, it will be no easy task to keep services functioning at an acceptable level. In fact, it will be impossible.

The monetary crisis facing local governments has been well documented. It started when voters approved the $30 license tab initiative, and was compounded when voters limited governments to a 1 percent annual increase in property tax levies without a public vote. The county cut beyond the bone in adopting its 2002 budget by reducing programs and digging deep into its “rainy day” fund. To cut much further in 2003 would drastically curtail services.

Last week, it was the sheriff’s turn to meet with the commissioners and lament the dire straits his department is negotiating. Positions have been eliminated, vacancies unfilled, special teams disbanded, and yet it’s not enough. The county will lose 24-hour law enforcement protection if threatened 2003 budget cuts materialize.

Other departments tell similar tales of woe. Health Director Tim McDonald, for example, is having to do with less when he’s supposed to be preparing to deal with any number of possible terrorist threats. The federal and state governments talk a lot about terrorism, but when it comes to funding effective local programs it’s mostly talk and little money.

But enough of this. The public, no doubt, is already tired of reading about all the whining and upcoming cutbacks six months before the 2003 budget is actually adopted.

What the commissioners need to do is show some leadership, rather than simply providing a forum where department heads describe how bad things will be in 2003. It’s their job to keep things from getting that bad.

Island County voters have supported the tax cut initiatives, but they have never voted to gut services available to Island County residents. The commissioners should not make drastic cuts until they first ask the people to fund services at an appropriate level. Ask for a property tax increase of more than 1 percent. If the people say no, then the cuts will have to be made. But, knowing the people of Island County, we’re betting the majority will vote to continue the police and public health services the people need. All the commissioners have to do is ask.

To ready more editorials, see the print edition of Whidbey News-Times

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