Citizen Harry: What’s happening with the levy committee

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    By Harry Gatjens

    Lots of side discussions about the Citizens Levy Committee have been circulating lately, so what is going on with it?

    Mainly, the committee has been doing preliminary work to determine the real need for a levy. An extensive amount of time has  been spent auditing the City of Edmonds’ financial performance and looking for areas of waste. For the most part, little waste has been found so it appears there are few ways to reduce expenditures without impacting services.

    One of the members, Darroll Haug, has been devising a model so we can determine the impact of levies of various amounts on individual home owners. This will prove very valuable when we get down to the final nuts and bolts of dollars needed.

    We have spent time listening to other agencies that have had levies both pass and fail to determine why they got the results they did. This has been extremely helpful as there is an overriding theme: The message needs to be clear and compelling when asking citizens to tax themselves. There also needs to be a real consensus of the council and the mayor that the levy is needed, and they need to speak out about supporting it. This may be hard to accomplish in an election year, but failure to do so will certainly result in the levy failing.

    We still haven’t given up hope to avoid the need for a levy, but with the mayor’s latest budget and future projections, it is hard to imagine an alternative at this point.

    So, we have done much of the research and now is the time for real number-crunching, arguing over whether to include capital projects with operating needs in a single package or to split them out. Some have suggested a new form of government known as version 2.0. That will be the subject of more intense debate in the near future. The committee also intends to do some scientific polling of the citizenry to determine what priorities exist and what they are willing to pay for. That seemed to help other cities target their message as to how those priorities would be served.

    I think the citizens of Edmonds understand that it costs money to run a city. If you show that you are being good stewards of their money and are open and clear about the needs and what you will do with new money, they will support a levy. Try to confuse them or make any misstatements about a proposal, and you will not only get soundly defeated, but you will deserve it.

    Being open and honest are the ingredients to getting a levy to pass. Whether or not our council and mayor can come to a consensus about the issue is a question that time will answer.

    The next levy committee meeting is scheduled for Jan. 12 at 5:30 p.m. in the Brackett meeting room on the third floor of City Hall. It has been suggested that ideas coming from the committee are just those of the seven people on the committee without the input of others. All meetings are open to the public and public comment time is made available at the end of each meeting.

    Edmonds resident “Citizen Harry” Gatjens provides regular reports to My Edmonds News on the workings of the Edmonds city government, including the 2010 Citizens Levy Committee and the Citizens Technology Advisory Committee. Gatjens, an accountant, also offers insight into the workings of the city budget.

    5 COMMENTS

    1. Harry, I’m surprised by several things noted. First, that an ‘audit’ was conducted to look for waste in the City’s financial performance. I believe the State Auditor is responsible for this task, and I know a group of citizens conducted a similar drill just 2 years ago. They all found nothing @ fault, just not enough revenue. Anyway, so why the audit, who in the group has the professional credentials/experience to do such work? I know these facts won’t satisfy some Councilmembers, but this City has be audited repeatedly of late, and the outcome is the same.

      I hope your group does not make the same mistake made by the Transportation Board, that it’s ‘only the cost of a cup of coffee.’ Our homes are already taxed by many government entities to draw funds for their purposes. What you are considering is another ‘tax’ on top of all the others. The question is not whether we would ‘tax ourselves’ but whether we would add additional taxation upon our homes and lives.

      Finally, what’s with this ‘Version 2.0’ new form of government statement? Sounds like code for City Manager and a backdoor way of getting there. If so, the public has already spoken on this matter, as have other key civic groups in town…NO!. You need to be real clear on this as ‘version 2.0″ means nothing to the reader, but raises questions immediately about what the Levy group is up to.

      Thanks

    2. Harry, thanks so much for keeping us informed. Edmonds is lucky to have you. It sounds like the Levy Committee is doing some great work on this.

      There’s one more thing I want to see. I want an open, honest answer to the question of what happens if the levy does NOT pass. Saying “services will be cut” is not nearly enough. I want to know what services will be cut.

      I’m not interested in alarmist hyperbole like “we’ll be reducing police protection” or any other particular service unless the Mayor and the City Council are willing to say on the record they believe that’s the least important expenditure of money. Even then, they’ll have to convince me they’re being open and honest.

      I’m willing to pay more in property taxes for the retention of existing services if I’m given honest information about what’s really on the chopping block. I’m even willing to vote for services that don’t benefit me, as long as they have sufficient value to the city taken as a whole. In the past, I’ve voted for nearly every levy put before the voters, so please don’t dismiss me as a knee-jerk “no new taxes” kind of guy. But if I think I’m being lied to about this levy, or I don’t see enough specifics, I’m voting NO.

      These are extraordinary times and if you want more money from the citizens, you’re going to have to make an extraordinarily good case for it.

    3. Jim & Joe:

      You two have started off the year with excellent comments that, in my opinion, are right on!

      Government 2.0 has been introduced by DJ Wilson. I’m quite certain that it does not include having a city manager, as DJ has made presentations describing why that is not the right form of government for Edmonds.

    4. Jim: The audit was not of the financial system but rather of the expenditures themselves. It was our thought that people almost universally always say there is government waste and that if we cut thart out no new taxes would be necessary. Our intention was to show that we had examined for government waste and present the results of what we found.

      As for the statement about “the cost of a cup of coffee”, if you knew me you would know I was strongly opposed to that line of comunication It showed a council that was out of touch with reality. My contention the whole time has been that the citizens of Edmonds are smart and capable of making good decisions. That if we lay out exactly how much money is needed and what it would be used for, the citizens are capable of making a smart and informed choice.

      Government 2.0 has nothing to do with the City Manager concept. It is an idea where the city divests itself of certain services for example fire departmnet or parks and then citizens can vote to fund those projects separately. I don’t yet know all the details but my first impression is that this is another scheme to confuse the voters into taxing themselves more. The fire budget comes out of the City’s budget and is now funded by a new tax on citizens. The City’s share of property tax does not decrease so in essence the citizens are paying increased taxes to get the same serviceas .Essentially the same as if they voted for a levy. DJ Wilson is having a second meeting on this subject this Thursday night, so I am quite interested to get more detail and see what I am missing.

    5. I jusr read DJ Wilson’s article and survey and find that I was mistaken about the city getting the same money if the Fire District was reverse annexed out. The City would no longer received the EMS portion of propery taxes (about $180 per average household), however the average household would now need to spend $540 for Fire District Services.

      My mistake but still looks like the same result.

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