EDITORIAL: Local tax hike likely necessary

Island County and the city of Oak Harbor are on the right track in pursuing a tax increase to keep vital county and city services intact, but whether it’s the right tax should be debated further.

Last week, the city council concurred with Island County Commissioner Mac McDowell’s recommendation that a one-tenth of one-percent sales tax increase be presented to the voters. Resulting revenues totalling some $591,000 would help support the I-COM 911 emergency system and other services county-wide.

There are still some questions about the I-COM sales tax, not the least of which is whether it will be supported by all of Island County’s emergency services districts. If not, it won’t be on the ballot. That’s an issue to be worked out among fire district and hospital district elected officials and only time will tell if all will agree.

Another concern is the idea of raising even more money through the sales tax. Oak Harbor’s sales tax is already higher than other areas that compete for the same business. Another hike could increase that competitive disadvantage. So other options should be thoroughly studied.

What is hard to argue with, however, is that whether it’s the I-COM sales tax or something else, local governments will need more revenue next year. Blame that necessity on cuts in state support to local governments due to the economic downturn and voter-approved initiatives that have reduced state tax revenue. Cuts made in 2002 were bad enough; without more revenue, cuts in 2003 will gnaw into the bone of essential services supported by the large majority of Island County citizens.

While increasing local taxes is never pleasant, taxpayers should still see a more reasonable total tax bill compared to a few years ago. And taxes levied locally are spent locally, rather than being siphoned off by the state. There’s a 100 percent return on investment.

Of course, voters who support increased local taxes may justifiably look askance at requests for more state taxes, such as the big gas tax hike that will be on the November ballot. But that’s the risk our state legislators took when they decided to cut back on support to local governments.

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