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North Bend mayor gives refund check back to city

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NORTH BEND - It may sound odd to willingly give the government more money than it is already entitled to, but that is exactly what Ken Hearing did last week.

The North Bend mayor dropped by the city's administrative offices on Nov. 18 to sign over two $15 refund checks he got from the state's Department of Licensing. The checks were issued to Hearing as the result of Initiative-776 (I-776), a citizen-sponsored initiative approved by voters in 2002 that kept car tab fees to $30. Numerous car owners throughout the state received the refund checks earlier this fall.

Hearing thought North Bend needed the money so he wanted to set an example by signing his refund checks over to the city. He agreed that asking people to give money to the government is a strange proposition, but after seeing what I-776 did to the city budget, he said the city needed the money more than he did.

"What is $15 to me? It is nothing" Hearing said. "The question is, what is $40,000 to the city?"

City of North Bend Finance Director Elena Montgomery said $40,000 is how much I-776 will cost the city this year. Figures of that size can seem small for a city budget that has a $4.4-million general fund, but Hearing said $40,000 is still a lot of money. It is the amount the city allocated to its sheriff for overtime next year. It is nearly half of what the city wanted to put in its street pavement overlay fund ($100,000) for next year, but had to settle for $50,000.

What made I-776 even more painful was that it was directed at the local level's ability to collect taxes, not the county's. Hearing said neither the state's nor the county's cut of car tab fees was affected by I-776. After seeing the effect the initiative had on the North Bend budget, Hearing wanted to do something about it.

"I made a promise last year during the campaign that I would do this," Hearing said.

So, Hearing decided to, quite literally, put his money where his mouth is. He headed to the city offices and signed over his two checks to the city of North Bend. Montgomery said while the city does not usually take checks originally signed over to another person, the small amounts of the checks posed no substantial risk to the city and she felt good about a state check not bouncing.

"I am sure they have the funds to cover it," Montgomery said.

Hearing doesn't expect a lot of fellow North Bend residents to form a line behind him to sign over their car tab checks, and he believes he is the only one who has done so.

As the city comes to terms with a tighter budget next year, however, Hearing knows that every dollar counts.

Just $39,970 left to go.

* Anyone wanting to sign over their car tab refund checks, or any other check for that matter, can stop by the city's administrative office at 211 Main Ave. N. in North Bend.

Editor Ben Cape can be reached at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at ben.cape@valleyrecord.com.

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