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EDITORIAL: EDC is a luxury during budget crunch
The Island County Commissioners recently announced the deep cuts they will make in order to balance the budget, which is in the red by over $770,000. The budget woes are a result of tax-cutting initiatives I-747 and I-695, coupled with the effects of a lagging economy and relatively weak sales tax base in the county..
The commissioner did the right thing by announcing the cuts early on. In comparison, the city of Oak Harbor, which has budget problems of its own, has budget workshops scheduled into September. In the county, few departments are avoiding the budget-cutting ax. The assessor, the auditor, district court, juvenile court, the prosecutor and the sheriffs office will all lose a full-time employee. The county clerk, treasurers office, public defender and maintenance office will all lose a half-time position. The Health Departments funding will be slashed by $60,000.
Perhaps the most unpopular cut, judging from public reaction, is to Washington State University Cooperative Extension, which will lose $40,000. The loss of funding is expected to seriously affect the agencys popular 4-H programs in the county.
But missing from the list of cuts is the countys Economic Development Council, which receives $32,500 a year from the county. Its an agency that is supposed to to undertake those activities and projects that will most effectively retain and create job opportunities, according to the mission statement. The EDC has come under fire numerous times in recent years. Last year the commissioners themselves took the agency to task and said they wanted to see some actual results for the countys investment. Business leaders in the community have also been quietly critical of the EDC, pointing out that the low-profile agency has done little to actually improve the countys economic situation. After all, both the Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce and the Central Whidbey Chamber of Commerce have goals that overlap with the EDCs goals, but the Chambers seem to be more successful and active.
Thats not to say that the EDC is worthless. The agency puts together the annual Uniquely Whidbey Trade Fair and Home Show, which brings about 125 businesses together to showcase what they do to about 3,000 potential customers. The EDC helped the county secure $400,000 in sales tax for rural communities, plus they bring important speakers to the island and provide office space for agencies that provide business loans and other services. Undoubtedly, much of what the EDC does cannot be quantified.
Despite these achievements, the EDC has not sufficiently justified its existence to warrant funding at a time when the countys coffers are severely taxed. Take a look around Oak Harbor at the dozens of empty storefronts. The EDC was unable to keep a big business like Logos from moving out of the county. Let the agency take its case into the world of grants and see how they are judged on past performance.
The bottom line is that during a time of budget problems, the county needs to fund its core, essential services first. The EDC is not more important than the Health Department, especially in an age of anthrax and West Nile Virus. A deputy or a prosecutor should not be fired so that the EDC can be funded. At a time like this, the EDC is a luxury the county cannot afford.