County needs to spend your money on veterans as promised | Kathy Lambert

You can attend a town hall in Snoqualmie from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, April 18 at Snoqualmie Library, 7824 Center Blvd. SE, to talk about how the Veterans, Seniors and Human Services Levy monies should be spent during the next six years.

By Kathy Lambert, For the Valley Record

Do you know a veteran? Do you respect a veteran? Did you know that 6,000 veterans a year are committing suicide? So what can you do? You can attend a town hall in Snoqualmie from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, April 18 at Snoqualmie Library, 7824 Center Blvd. SE, to talk about how the Veterans, Seniors and Human Services Levy monies should be spent during the next six years.

There is some very important background information for you to know as this levy is established.

Originally in 2006, the money was to be totally a Veterans Levy. The veterans had and still have many needs that are unmet. Many veterans in this county are still homeless and facing many other needs. So the amount that was proposed was to cover those needs. The veterans worked for many months to talk about the range of need and get the ordinance passed to send the proposal for a vote to you, the citizens.

At the last minute at the King County Council, there was a change to make the levy include both veterans and human services. So that meant that the veterans would potentially receive half of the money they had presented as the need.

I remember looking out at their faces which appeared shocked. They were told that agreeing to this change was the only way to get the votes they needed. So they “agreed.” The original ordinance gave the veterans much oversight of how the funds would be spent and the veterans led and planned the meetings. They were to elect among themselves a board with two-year terms to work together to propose how the funds should be spent. The human services side would have their own separate board.

The levy at this time was set at 5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value on our homes. The levy passed with about 60% of the vote.

Six years later in 2012, when that levy had completed, the ordinance came up again for a vote. There continued to be the two categories of money — veterans and the human services. The state laws says that each county is to have a board that has a role to oversee the needs of the veterans. The state law — Revised Code of Washington (RCW) — has never been changed. That vote passed with about 68% of the vote.

Then in 2018, after that levy ended, a new renewal was voted upon. Again, more changes. By now the cost was doubled to 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. There were several more large changes.

Now on this third time the oversight boards were to be combined together. This greatly reduced the input of the veterans. The veterans still meet to oversee what was once to be their input. This is of concern as veterans’ issues are not always what people expect or understand.

Let me give you an example of veterans making a change to suit their specific needs. We set up a veterans drug court as many are dealing with post traumatic stress and drug usage. We assumed that having these courts around the county would be convenient for them.

After a few months, they came to us and said they would prefer to schedule that court in only one place at a certain time so that they could all meet together and have time to share their experiences and support one another. We had not expected this would be the preferred schedule — and when we learned it, we adapted quickly. I am sure there are many aspects of their experiences and needs that only they can truly comprehend, and the mutual support is helpful.

Thanks to the veterans, we do not have to endure many of the issues and conditions they faced. So listening to their specific needs is vital. Providing them the services they need is a way to show our gratitude and our thanks to them for their bravery and service to us and to our country. Their voices should not be diluted. Plus, this is in better alignment with the state law that the Veterans Advisory Board oversee the funds.

Next, a third group was added, which would again divide the funds – seniors. As a compromise to this change, they were told that older veterans could also qualify for senior monies too potentially. I worry that these funds are being used to expand to every need rather than the focus of the original vote and votes and in the state law. These funds have slowly gone to many needs under the big umbrella of human services and reducing money to veterans.

The organizational structure was again changed, and it became more political. Each council member was to appoint someone to the veterans board rather than the veterans electing their representative themselves. Now there was or could be pressure given to be sure they give in to changes or be allocated even less money. Changes were implemented that concerned some of the board members. Plus, then more planning was done by the county staff. The staff began to set the agenda and call some meetings at times or on short notice that were not as convenient for some of the veterans – even on zoom. The staff also cancelled some meetings saying that they were not ready or understaffed.

Now 2024 is the next levy vote and this will be the topic of the meeting on Sept. 18. Having this background knowledge is vital to making good decisions going forward.

In my opinion, the boards should be separated again. The veterans should decide what expenditures best meet their needs. They still have a list that is unmet. (Interestingly after I had written the draft of this article, I was at a meeting and saw a well-known military leader. I asked him if he had heard about the new proposal for the Veterans, Seniors and Human Services levy. ( Note Human Services has been called Resilient Committees lately as you will see in their minutes of their meetings.) He told me he had great concerns as several of the grants that veterans had applied for had been turned down. Little did he know I was writing this article and that I would go home and add that into this story!) The veterans should decide on how those funds are spent and it should be clear that funds are not moved to other categories.

County staff that says they are understaffed should not be planning and scheduling these meetings. For the first twelve years, the veterans did that function well. That could save money in the levy too.

Consistent proposals. In November 2023, the council voted to re-establish the levy. There was no conversation about any other groups, strategies, etc. getting funds. But in January there was a new strategy added for immigrants and refugees. Now they will potentially go from being the sole recipients of these funds to sharing with Human Services funds, then Seniors and now to a new proposed strategy to fund for immigrants and refugees. While this new category does have needs, they should not take funds from the levy that was intended for the veterans. In this proposal there is discussion of $1.3 million being reallocated on this new strategy.

I have been around to see some of what happens in the “back room” that were of great concern to me. Money can be allocated to an overall account, and then funds can move back and forth in that account that is often difficult to see just where those funds went. The veterans are very good about sharing their needs and reporting back to one another on how things are going. They should have the authority given back to them and it be very clear in the new levy how much of the levy they get – so they get their full portion. Also, veterans are very performance oriented. If they are given a mission, they do it! (One reason I liked working with them.) I never worried that the were not transparent and accountable. The veterans respected and gave input to their oversight board.

I can tell you that the auditing of some of the grants in human services were not well audited if even audited. We truly get our dollar’s worth with our veterans. After all, they were willing to give their lives for our safety, the least we can do is to meet their needs for services.

So I hope that knowing this history and some of the ramifications of the changes are helpful in designing the next levy and making our veterans feel the levy they originated really does finally meet their needs.

Kathy Lambert is a former member of the King County Council who represented the Snoqualmie Valley area.