No taxation without providing details

Record Editorial

  • Friday, October 3, 2008 2:41am
  • Opinion

It seems the new method of creating infrastructure is to go to the voters and ask for more money. But, with this “ask” comes a new trend of providing less detail in hopes the average taxpayer won’t ask too many questions about where their money will be going.

The “trend” seems to be causing a shift of the trust level in elected officials, and locally there are several indicators that may prevent any future proposals from passing.

First, the upcoming second attempt at the school levy. While I do think new schools are needed, there are many questions still swirling about various alternatives. The district owns property currently on Snoqualmie Ridge. Can this property be used for a high school in some other configuration or sold to offset the costs of future property acquisitions? It’s not a black-and-white answer, but I have noticed several inquiries as to options to better utilize existing district properties.

I, for one, think a school levy would fail miserably if the new high school were to be built on the Ridge. The bulk of school district voters do not live on Snoqualmie Ridge. Is there a configuration that would allow a smaller site to be used? What are the detailed costs for the creation of a new high school? It all boils down to information, but the “ask” now requires a lot more detail to pacify a smart voter.

Fire services continue to be discussed in the Upper Valley. For as long as I have been here at the Valley Record, there have been proponents and opponents of contracting with Eastside Fire and Rescue. Last week’s workstudy meeting of the North Bend City Council was a first attempt at answering serious questions about costs and levels of service and, based on my listening to the tape, the workstudy did neither.

It’s a given that Fire District 38 commissioners will want to contract with EFR. They sold the recent levy lid lift with that in mind, never once talking about alternatives, reducing costs or increasing service levels. So rather than put a detailed budget together to explain their position, they merely say we will pass our tax dollars onto EFR.

EFR has provided good service over the years, nobody is questioning that. But can we expect our services to grow as we grow? Are we getting our money’s worth in terms of firefighters and equipment? The three fire commissioners of District 38 who are firefighters or retired firefighters will have a hard time being objective when it comes to asking tough financial questions. It would be like asking a police chief to develop their own budget, and just implementing that budget with no review by a city council. In this case, a chief will always want the most for subordinates, regardless of the cost.

We are smart voters who want details. The city of North Bend should develop a detailed budget for each option it is currently looking at, then use an apples-to-apples comparison. Show the actual cost of salaries, benefits, electricity, gas, water, sewer, equipment payments, overhead, training, etc., in detail. Then use that number to compare contracting options.

This would end the haggling that has been part of the fire services contracting for the last 12 years. It would allow council members to make an informed decision on direction and provide them with information needed to answer the tough questions when asked. Let’s put the questions to rest once and for all by putting real numbers on the table.

Those of us in business know where every penny goes. It’s about time that same mentality was used for spending our tax dollars.

The North Bend City Council and city staff have an obligation to ask the tough questions and then make a decision based on getting the most bang for our tax dollars. They are the only ones who can be objective about a direction for fire services.

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