Vet support cost, revenue don’t jibe | Bob Meadows

Kitsap County’s Veterans Assistance Program is in need of additional funding, if the spending level of the past few years is to be maintained.

Kitsap County’s Veterans Assistance Program is in need of additional funding, if the spending level of the past few years is to be maintained.

After the program was changed beginning in 2007, direct financial assistance to indigent veterans more than doubled, but revenue for the fund didn’t.

Rather than a program that few people knew about, the county now has a program that reaches out to find and assist indigent veterans – resulting in much greater expenditures.

The annual costs of administering a revised program that had previously been run by voluntary veteran service organizations amounted to as much as had been distributed to indigent veterans in previous years.

Expenditures including the costs of administration for the program at the level it reached after the changes exceeded the annual revenue by roughly $200,000.

At some point, spending so much more than is being levied annually for the fund cannot continue, and that point is being reached this year.

Once the fund balance is drawn down to an amount that cannot cover expenditures in the first few months of the following year (while awaiting the first half’s property tax receipts in April), something has to give.

A loan from the general fund could cover a resulting gap, but it doesn’t solve the continuing problem of expenditures exceeding revenue.

Seeing the need for an immediate solution, the county commissioners are making policy changes to reduce the amount distributed this year as direct financial assistance to indigent veterans.

A levy increase for 2013 may be part of the solution, but that can’t have any effect until next year.

Now that more people have been made aware of the program, more people have applied for financial assistance.

That was the idea when the program was revised. No one could know what level of assistance might be needed, but a program that was so little known probably wasn’t fulfilling its purpose.

When the revised program results in roughly $30,000 per month in direct assistance paid out and less than that amount coming in as revenue, the payments have to be reduced.

The problem with reducing the amount that is available to each indigent veteran is that too little financial assistance is not much better than no assistance at all.

We are probably never going back to the time when the veterans program was an alternative to the county poor house, but we ought to wonder whether the assistance offered is effective.

If we want a program that provides needed assistance to indigent veterans, and if the reduced level required by current revenue isn’t appropriate, then revenue has to be increased.

Time has probably run out for a gradual revenue increase, since the fund balance is dwindling.

Instead of increasing the levy amount to begin closing the gap between revenue and spending, the commissioners reduced the program’s levy for 2012 to $305,240. In 2011, it had been $319,887.

That’s not a large reduction, but it made the needed increase next year even bigger.

Increasing the program’s tax revenue isn’t easy, since using more of the county’s levy authority for indigent veterans means less revenue is available for other programs.

Voters rejected a lid lift proposition last year that would have allowed an increase in the annual levy for the veterans program as part of a larger package of proposed spending.

Some people hope the legislature will authorize a property tax increase for the veterans program that doesn’t require voter approval.

Some might wish that voluntary contributions would meet the need for funding, as some people advocated while the lid lift measure was pending last year.

One way or another, the program’s spending has to be matched by revenue in the near future.

The effort to improve the effectiveness of the county’s Veterans Assistance Program came with a cost, and that cost has to be met if the improved program is to continue.

Columnist Bob Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.