Whatcom County Budget Shell Game

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Thu, Nov 05, 2009, 5:31 pm  //  Tom Pratum

Not surprising to most readers is the fact that Whatcom County has a relatively large general fund budget hole to plug. I wrote about this in July, and commented on some of the "fixes" then proposed by the county administration:

On Tuesday November 10, the Whatcom County Council will consider one of the more controversial "fixes": shifting $1.75 million in tax levy authority from the road fund to the general fund. In my previous posting, I pointed out that this would not be fair to county residents because only property taxpayers in unincorporated areas pay road fund tax, while all property tax payers pay general fund tax. Because city taxpayers pay no road fund tax, the result would be a shift of the tax burden from the unicorporated areas to the cities - resulting in a tax increase for city payers.

At the last council meeting, Carl Weimer showed some concern regarding this, and this was reported by Sam Taylor in the Bellingham Herald:

I think it is pretty obvious this proposal is not fair, so what are the county's options?

  • Divert road funds directly into the general fund. Turns out this is really not fair for the same reason the "levy shift" is not fair - the road fund has not been paid into equally across the county, so using it to pay off general fund expenses that should be born by all taxpayers is not fair. Additionally, such a diversion makes the county ineligible for Rural Arterial Program funding - which is slated to partially fund the upgrade of Lincoln Road.
  • Increase the general fund tax levy rate (increase taxes). Since this would affect all taxpayers equally, this would be fair, but do they have the backbone?
  • Decrease services - meaning layoff employees. This would be fair to taxpayers, and is exactly what other governmental and private sector organizations have had to do in recent times.
  • Shift levy authority from a fund paid equally by all taxpayers - for example the conservation futures fund - to the general fund. This would be fair, but obviously would reduce funds available in the conservation futures fund, and also would not provide sufficient funds to "plug" the hole, requiring further measures.

From my view of this, the proposed levy shift, and the first item in the list above, should be off the table due to its lack of fairness. The second three items should all be looked to for the solution to the county's budget problems. The issue is, no one wants to raise taxes, especially now. Add to that the fact that the county administration has said "no layoffs", and you can see county officials are pretty well painted into a corner here. I think they ought to get ready to walk across the paint and get messed up a little.....

David Camp  //  Thu, Nov 05, 2009, 5:57 pm

You left out an option: instead of laying off staff, how about reducing wages, especially for the higher-paid staff? ReSources did something like this in an open process which was supported by most employees.

I think the best place to start would be to reduce Mr. Kremen’s salary, since he increased it improperly and in a manner to raise questions as to his fitness to hold an office of public trust.

Tom Pratum  //  Thu, Nov 05, 2009, 6:34 pm

Sorry about the incomplete original posting - I had a few problems on my end; all fixed now. Anyway, you are correct, salary reductions should also be considered, and Kremen’s is at the top….

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