This is the latest in a continuing series of reports by “Citizen Harry” Gatjens on the 2010 Edmonds Citizens Levy Committee.
The Edmonds Citizens Levy Committee met again this past Monday at City Hall. One of the first things we were given was a copy of Mayor Mike Cooper’s new proposed budget. This is an incredibly important part of the process, as without the budget you can’t really determine whether the City needs more money. While the budget still needs approval by the City Council, this is a good starting point.
The mayor’s budget actually provides a little comfort to the Levy Committee, as it shows the City not having deficit spending until 2013. Of course, in order to achieve that, the mayor had to take out some items that council members think might need to stay. So the negotiations begin.
Also, it is good to realize that even if the levy committee determines there is need for an additional levy, the earliest it can go for a vote is in 2011 and, if it passes, money won’t be collected until 2012. So we really do need to look several years out.
Next we had a speaker from Lake Forest Park, Sara Phillips, who is in charge of Community and Government Affairs. Sara gave us Lake Forest Park’s experiences in both determining the need for a levy and then describing how they presented it to the citizens.
She spoke for quite sometime and shared much useful information.Lake Forest Park’s strategy was to just lay out the facts about what it costs to run the city and let the citizens know that if they wanted to keep the current level of services, taxes would need to rise an average of $120 a year or $10 per month.
The Lake Forest Park mayor then offered to go to any citizen’s home and have a “coffee klatch” and explain the situation and answer questions. Quite a number of people responded, and each of these meetings seemed to go well, with citizens supporting the idea of the levy.
Following these were larger-scale public meetings attended by an organized anti-levy group that tended to dominate the microphone. The anti-levy group also was funded by more than a 3-1 margin over the pro-levy group.
The end result was the Lake Forest Park levy failed miserably and the city is now facing severe cuts. The police department will be cut, Sara’s own job is scheduled for elimination and other services will be curtailed.
Some items learned were: 1. The message is clear that the masses think government is oversized. Our own city has been reducing staff for over a decade, but because it has been incremental reductions, no one will note the significance of the efforts. 2. Don’t underestimate the power of opposing groups. They are well organized and will seize every opportunity to make the case against a levy. 3. Don’t minimize the impact of a levy by saying “It’s only $10 a month” or as some of our politicians have said about the Proposition 1 Transportation Benefit District increase, “It’s only a cup of coffee a month.” These kind of comments seem elitist to the voters. Better to acknowledge the total amount of the impact and say we know it is a burden but unfortunately that is what it costs to keep the kind of services our citizens want.
It was an excellent presentation and gave us much to think about.
Following the presentation, committee reports were given. The expense committee continues to examine volumes of data, looking for potential savings. Darroll Haug prepared a model so that we could determine for differing amounts of dollars needed, what the impact would be on a single home. This will come in quite handy when we begin to prioritize projects.
We are still having difficulty obtaining clarity as to how certain amounts are classified within funds. There is no question of missing amounts — they are all there. The question is how to properly classify them.
A suggestion was made that the City of Edmonds might want to consider casino gambling as a new source of revenue. Shoreline and Mountlake Terrace both bring in huge amounts from these operations. Obviously this is something that requires further study.
This was one of our more productive meetings both in terms of information gathered and movement toward trying to piece together a final solution.
Join us for the next meeting, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 21, third floor of City Hall.