Opinion

Informed decisions: Elections and operations levies are coming soon

Most of us can agree that the summer is flying by. I took stock of that over the last few days when I was confronted by multiple announcements for upcoming tax measures and requests for interviews by some of the area’s candidates for legislature.

Suddenly, the August primary is days away. The August 7 vote winnows the field for another election on November 6 to decide our next set of state legislators, congressional representatives and governor.

At the same time, we’ve got two important local tax propositions in the pipeline: Operations levy for both the City of Snoqualmie and the Si View Metro Parks District.

Snoqualmie and Si View’s new levy requests are the latest signposts of a decade-long process of change in which the public’s desire for things like nice parks, top-notch cops or firefighters or schools collides with the realities of a slumping economy and an electorate that demands more for less. Of course there’s nothing wrong with getting more for less—we see it all the time in our stores or malls. We’re conditioned to seek out great deals. But in 2012, there’s a changing balance between what we want from local governments, and what we can afford.

Our state’s property-tax-based system has a number of checks and balances, including a government-mandated cap on junior districts like Si View, and the annual 1 percent increase cap placed on local governments a decade ago by Initiative 747. But that revenue system is now being strained. The limit has been reached in areas of North Bend, meaning the arguably lower-priority Si View Park District goes hat-in-hand to voters. Snoqualmie benefited from waves of growth, but has found that growth alone can’t be relied on to meet needs due to the cap.

Governments like Snoqualmie or Si View can cut and parse and belt-tighten to fit these new models, but the truth is that, unlike big companies, you can’t outsource a local firefighter or pool instructor job. Sooner or later, a hard choice must be made about what program to cut, which playfield to mow, or how long it might take to save that burning building.

These ballot measures are a way for our schools, parks boards and cities to tell us, ‘Make a choice about what services you want, and back it up with your wallet.’ That choice is in all our hands, regardless of whether we own the property that is to be taxed.

That’s why it’s very important to start now, while it’s still fairly early in the election season, to make yourself informed about city and parks district issues.

E-mail your council or parks board, ask questions and offer your own advice. Visit with city staff at our local festivals, or when they’re on the job, and talk to them about priorities and the realities of their job and your own economies. Attend council or committee meetings and see how decisions are made.

Remember to visit candidates’ webpages and get a sense of their platforms. Washington is lucky to have a primary in which you still have a menu of choices, not just a party platform. Spend some time at dinner with your family or friends and talk about these issues and hash out what’s really important to you and who might meet your needs.

I sometimes hear that governments don’t do enough to communicate. Sometimes that’s true, but communication is a two-way street. Elected officials and candidates may not always be able to come to you, but you can go to them. It’s everyone’s own responsibility to become informed voters and citizens.

 

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