Make your vote count
An advantage of local taxation is that you know, with some specificity, what you’re supposed to get for the money. You can make your own assessment about whether the expense is worth it, based on the evidence of its effectiveness (or failure).
That’s one reason local tax increases often are more-tolerated than taxes imposed from far away by big political entities like state and federal governments. Voters have the opportunity to make a clear choice and have a significant say in the welfare of their communities.
Local bond and levy proposals, or increases retail sales taxes like that recently approved by county voters, typically are designated to meet needs that likely won’t otherwise be addressed. At the school district, town, county or service district level it’s up to us to self-impose taxes that, in theory, enhance our lives and those of our fellow residents.
Valley voters (depending on where you live) are being asked to consider renewing two levies proposed by the Methow Valley School District, one to support a variety of classroom needs and one to support technology education programs. They are what we colloquially call “replacement levies” because they extend existing four-year taxes that voters previously approved for similar purposes. Together, the two revenue streams support about 22% of the district’s annual expenditures. Ballots have been mailed and must be returned or postmarked by Feb. 11.
According to school district calculations, the per-$1,000 assessment rate will actually decrease if both levies are approved – and yet proceeds to the district will increase thanks to the overall rise in local property values. The district has also built in a contingency plan in case the state raises the cap on what school districts can currently collect from taxpayers.
Past decisions about spending local taxes have been made with the help of community input and will be this time as well so that they reflect not only the educators’ priorities but also those of district residents. The money has been spent where it was intended. These two levies have in the past proved to be essential for the kind of quality education the valley expects and our students deserve. We recommend that both be approved. Without asking taxpayers to shoulder a larger burden, the district will be able to maintain and improve existing offerings. That’s a pretty good bargain.
Another high-impact levy request will soon be placed before residents of Okanogan County Fire District 6 (not including Twisp residents because the town is not technically part of the district). The District 6 request, to support the construction of a new central fire station in Winthrop, will require a property tax increase estimated at 17.5 cents per $1,000 of property valuation.
There’s no need to rehash the contentious history of previous proposals to finance the new fire station. Voters have rejected earlier requests going back for more than a decade, and details about the structure, its cost and its location have been argued for years.
Putting all that behind them may be difficult for some voters, but it will be necessary if District 6 is to have any near-term chance of getting the new fire hall built. Like it or not, the current proposal is the best chance we have for improving the district’s operational and training abilities. There just aren’t any realistic options, nor is there a plausible timetable for going back to square one.
The district’s professional and volunteer personnel have been working hard, making themselves available and the levy proposal transparent, to generate the support needed this time. They have made a good case for the proposal. This is the opportunity to express your confidence in their efforts and intentions and say “yes” to a new fire hall, trusting that the funds will be well-spent. And, passing the levy will assure that the fire district can take advantage of a $1.8 million grant that is dependent on voter approval of the levy. The measure is likely to be on the April ballot.
Plenty of information is available about both the school district and fire district proposals, so there’s no reason to plead ignorance about what’s on the table and how it will affect you. Be a responsible voter, no matter which direction you cast your ballot.
— Don Nelson