Letters to the Editor

Island County problems traced to state

Following an Island County budget story, a newspaper reader asked: Is this a new struggle or is it caused by years of liberal spending on unsustainable services?

The answer is: Several former conservative boards of commissioners and the State of Washington created those important services. Over 30 years’ worth of former commissioners had small appetites for spending, and so does the current board, which inherited county government and its services from past boards, on top of mandated services from the state. It is unreasonable to now say the current board has an insatiable appetite to spend just because it is bringing the county technologically into the 21st Century and last year preserved a couple of valuable programs, Senior Services and WSU Extension, which were created and consistently supported by former boards. Even if those two programs had been cut, that would not have solved our problem.

Our problem, as a recent letter writer correctly pointed out, is that county budgets in the state of Washington are based on speculative development and sales revenue increases, a statewide system that, indeed, dries up surpluses in a depressed economy. What most people don’t understand is that counties are constitutional agents of the state, and that is where reform needs to take place. Counties lobbied hard for it during the 2010 legislative session.

The current economic crisis illustrates county governments’ financial vulnerability when it is funded by volatile sales taxes, real estate excise taxes, investment income and property taxes. Because of that state system, we now are faced with trying to save basic county services after all those funding sources hit bottom. Unfortunately, county services at risk are closely connected to quality of life: Law enforcement, courts, public health, roads, environmental protection, community planning, elections, public records, courthouse hours, staffing and computer technology, animal control, Senior Services, WSU Extension. Some people complain about the last two, but cutting them doesn’t solve the problem. We need to do much more.

No one is at fault, neither decades of former commissioners, nor the current board, which inherited the problems. Nonetheless, five years from now, Island County could exhaust its cash reserves simply by funding basic services and keeping up with inflation.

While I, too, am frustrated by national and global governments, it is counterproductive to think providing ourselves important, basic county services here at home leads to loss of rights and enslavement, as one letter writer suggests.

John Dean

Island County commissioner

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