Tough decisions await local voters
October 3, 2008 · Updated 12:41 AM
It's never a good time to ask for more tax dollars but with the current economy, it is probably one of the worst times. So each decision hinges on you, as voters, being informed of all the facts and then voting based on that information. Sometimes it's hard to weed through the information to decide what is important.
This upcoming Tuesday we have three measures that are asking for money.
The King County Library System is asking for $158 million to add new branches and improve 42 existing branches in the form of a bond. The bond is for 20 years and will add approximately eight cents in taxes per $1,000 of assessed value.
The money collected will fund the library system's capital plans for the next 10 years. Capital money is used to build, purchase or upgrade facilities and equipment, not to fund the daily operation of the libraries.
Locally, it may mean Snoqualmie would get a new library to replace the one currently sitting in a flood-prone area. The location of a new library is unknown, but it likely wouldn't be built in historic Snoqualmie since available land out of the floodplain is hard to find. After all, books are hard to read when they are soggy.
Is the timing right to ask for money for new libraries and renovations? Well, unemployment in the state is pretty high right now. I know many friends who have been affected by the economy. And if I hear the term, "It's only one latte a month" used one more time to describe the cost of a new tax, my head is going to explode. If we think back over the last few years, we have been asked to pay for about 10 lattes a day in new taxes. So please, for those of you using that analogy, drop it.
Is it an investment in the future? Well, yes. But are the future users of the library going to have the time to actually go to the library or are they more inclined to read a book on the Internet? It's a valid question in my mind and the answer is changing dramatically with each new group of high-school graduates. Is the current library system one that will serve the future users in a fashion they want?
I agree that it will be a meeting place but would like to remind voters in Snoqualmie specifically, that the proposed community center likely be put on the ballot again in some fashion will also be a meeting place. I'm going to have a hard time supporting this one, but then again my kids and I do not spend a lot of time at the libraries. Some might even comment that it shows.
But the decision to fund a library capital program does not seem as tough a decision to me as whether to support or not support a hospital bond for urgent-care facilities.
The facts are that the hospital district will be asking to raise its taxing authority seven cents per $1,000 of assessed value from 43 cents to 50 cents. With that money the district will open a 24-hour urgent-care facility that will be open seven days a week.
I have taken many stands on various hospital activities, beginning with vehement support of its operations when it opened. If we only knew then what we know now about the mismanagement of resources. But in defense of the current administration and board, things have changed. I truly believe they are attempting to provide a quality facility at a reasonable price.
I did have questions as to why a private practice (Meadowbrook Clinic) would be displaced with a practice that was funded with taxpayer dollars and have been told that it is to provide 24-hour urgent care. In other words, to offset the losses of providing urgent care at night, the daytime operation has to exist. That makes sense or a private practice would have done it 24/7.
I discussed some of my concerns with Fritz Ribary, a friend and someone I trust deeply who is also a member of the hospital board. My biggest concern is this: If we approve additional dollars for the hospital and it fails again, are we stuck with just one more bill to pay with no services?
We are still paying on a more than $11-million debt from previous attempts to fund the hospital. That amount is not included in the 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value we are being asked to support now. The urgent-care facility will run at a deficit the first year, as would be expected with any new facility. But will it have positive cash flow in the second year? Or are we saying we will pay for the facility no matter what ... that it is more a quality-of-life issue? The argument can be made that it's too far to drive to Overlake for urgent care, but there is a difference between urgent care and emergency care. The amount being requested is to support urgent care. A patient suffering from life-threatening injuries will not likely be served by an urgent-care facility but will instead be transported to Overlake.
It's a tough decision, but based on the support of emergency services historically in the Valley, it will likely pass. It probably is a good first step to bringing back our hospital, I just hope it's not premature and that we have the patient base to support it and not overburden the taxpayers. I will probably nervously support the hospital district's plans but will be watching like a hawk for the first implications of a lack of revenue.
I hope my good friends at Meadowbrook Clinic will find a new facility and provide the same service as before. Thanks to Dean for re-attaching my ear last year after an errant pitch nearly took my head off while I was umpiring a Little League game.
Finally, saving Si View. The voters are being asked to allow the formation of a Metropolitan Park District that will allow the funding of Si View through taxes spread across a large section of the Upper Valley. The park district will be governed by an independent board made up of residents as elected officials. They will have the authority to tax residents up to a certain amount for the operation of Si View.
I have to admit, this one is near and dear to my heart for I learned to swim at Si View. The ability to swim likely saved many lives in the Valley, and we can owe a lot of that to Si View and instructors like Georgia Kramer. So what are the two sides to this coin. Hmm, that's a tough one. The facility exists and there is no capital bond needed to purchase the center. It has been sorely underused for many years with inadequate programming and to recreate something like it, anywhere in the Upper Valley, would cost millions of dollars - just in building expenses. But it is another tax and a service that King County has historically provided. Now with its growth-management strapped coffers, the county is unable to continue running the park as a basic service, and it has been closed.
This is a chance to save it and provide swimming instruction and programs we can't hold anywhere else. An independent board will have the conflict-free ability to do what its constituents want. I strongly feel it's the way future parks will be funded and a way the cost of facilities can be spread over the actual using population.
I will not hesitate to vote "Yes" for this and urge you to do the same.
The most important thing is to be informed. Read the voters' pamphlet, read the newspaper and understand the issues.