Officials with county agencies, such as local fire districts and the regional library system, are concerned about Initiative 860’s proposed tax cut, as at least 90 percent of their operations are based on income from property taxes.
Kitsap County Fire District #18/Poulsbo Fire Chief Jim Shields said he feels the language is too vague but said results could be catastrophic for emergency services.
“I think voters ought to be very careful when they look at things,” Shields said, noting even he still has questions as to how the initiative would affect his district. “If we lost 25 percent of our funding, it would be devastating to the services we provide.”
If I-860 passes, the cuts would go much deeper though. Property tax income makes up 94.8 percent of Poulsbo Fire’s annual budget.
“Fire districts are somewhat unique in that the vast majority (of income) is derived from property taxes,” said North Kitsap Fire & Rescue public information officer Michéle Laboda.
While cities have other forms of income, such as sales taxes, fire districts rely primarily on property taxes for funding. Approximately 90 percent of NKF&R’s budget is dependent on property taxes, Laboda said.
“For us, property taxes are basically our funding,” she said. “Ninety percent of our ability to operate comes from it.”
Currently, fire and library districts are limited to collecting only 1 percent more in property taxes each year than the previous year to fund their operations, thanks to Initiative 747.
“Budget, cost of living … all go up by more than 1 percent a year,” Shields said. “People need to read the ramifications before saying what to put on the ballot.”
While voters passed an emergency medical services levy last year for both North Kitsap Fire & Rescue and Poulsbo Fire, Laboda said she feels that funding won’t be affected because the I-860 language claims voter-approved levies are not included in the cutbacks.
Kitsap Regional Library Director Ellen Newberg said as much as $2 million could be cut from her budget, which amounts to roughly 93 percent. For 2004, the library’s budget is slated at $8,905,104 — of that, property taxes will be $7,690,016.
current budget, add the 1 percent from I-747 plus new construction costs, then cut 25 percent from the top.
The funding dilemma would affect everything purchasing library books and upkeep of library facilities to paying staff members.
Newberg said the library district will be asking the public for its opinion, assuming the cut takes place.
“We’ll definitely be going to the public — would you like less books or less hours?” she said. This question was put to the public in the early 1990s and they requested less hours, but “people may feel different now,” Newberg said.
Newberg and her staff are planning to prepare two budgets for 2005 — one with the cut and one without it. Regardless of the outcome, the additional planning will still cost the regional system time and money.
“It’s going to cost us all a great deal even if it doesn’t pass,” Newberg said.