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Revenue raised, county's heritage destroyed
Well, it looks like the county's financial chickens have come home to roost. Are the Island County commissioners ready for it? Clearly not, since they created this mess in the first place.
The Whidbey News-Times quoted commissioner McDowell as saying that county revenues will drop by $1.2 million in the coming year. As with any such news from an elected official, we usually discover later that such a figure is conservative and will most likely be higher. Yet Mac, in his recent postcard to the voters of Island County, says "it all adds up" And we have "safety in unsafe times." Which is it Mac? Does your campaign spout hyperbole to get you re-elected only to save the really bad news till later as the recession deepens?
What reason does he give us for this shortfall? Permit fees for new construction are down 30 percent and real estate excise taxes are down 33 percent.
What is the lesson we learn from this? For many years now, our county commissioners' answer for raising revenue is by selling our heritage through growth and development. Instead of putting effort into preserving our heritage and encouraging more productive use of our farms and developing tourism, they would prefer to turn rural farmland into urban housing complexes and allow the erection of big box stores with acres of black asphalt.
Further, they would allow developers to drain sensitive wetlands, fill them with mountains of dirt and debris, top it all off with immense townhouse complexes, and then laughingly label $200,000 units as low income.
The result of all this reliance on unsustainable development for revenue, is that when the economy goes into a nose dive, so go the county coffers.
In a time of a national economic downturn, there are no easy answers. But with foresight and thoughtful planning, an area such as Whidbey and Camano could have been buffered against the worst effects. An economic plan based on renewable resources would have helped buffer the county in hard times. But, leadership from our county commissioners has been sorely lacking in this area for the last 15 years.
Foresight would have involved working with the farmers to maintain and expand their operations to the benefit of all.
Conventional wisdom, as laid out in June by an Island County Building official, is that large commercial farming wasn't working. With shortsighted leadership such as this, no wonder the farms are in trouble. The fact is, Whidbey Island has some of the richest agricultural land in the state and if utilized effectively could be highly productive. In these times of high fuel and transportation costs, basic foods could be grown and made available to the local populace without those added high costs.
Further, rather than taking advantage of National Parks status for the central part of Whidbey Island to promote tourism, the county commissioners would prefer to gut the ordinance of its protections and sell the rights to large scale McMansion developments. Who wants to visit a Bellevue suburb of multi-million dollar estates?
The bottom line is, the old model for revenue only works in times of plenty, and that time has passed. We need leadership that can think beyond the "build at any cost" mentality and do what we pay them to do, to design a model that works both in good times and bad.
Mac claims he "cares about you" which is written under a child's drawing on his postcard. I hope the child who drew the cute little house with the split rail fence around a yard of animals will actually be able to afford such a dream when they grow up. I fear that's all it will ever be for the child, a drawing on a fridge door of a hope unfulfilled in Island County.
Lance D. Loomis