Enough talk

Published 5:17 am Saturday, January 27, 2007

By Staff
Washington’s City Council and mayor have plenty of work to do when they meet Feb. 1-2 for their annual two-day planning session.
Part of that work likely will be determining what services to reduce or eliminate. And as Mayor Judy Meier Jennette said during a council meeting earlier this week, she and the council must focus on resolving some “sticky issues” the council has discussed each year for the past several years. A document distributed by Jennette to council members and other city officials this week also calls on the council and herself to focus on “the elusive issues.”
One of those “elusive issues” is improving the city’s finances. It’s no secret the city’s expenses are taxing its revenues.
Those issues must be addressed by finding the right solutions. If the present council and mayor don’t find those solutions, voters may give other people opportunities to find the solutions. What the existing council members and mayor do or don’t do between now and Election Day in the fall could determine who will govern the city after the second Monday in December.
But keep in mind that if city taxpayers, residents and others want the city to continue to provide services and at the same or a higher level than it now provides those services, someone will have to pay that bill. And if those same taxpayers, residents and others want their taxes, fees and assessments to remain the same, or possibly lower, they must face the possibility that some services will be reduced or eliminated.
Part of the problem, as city officials have pointed out in recent years, is that many people who use city services, programs and facilities are not city residents or city taxpayers. Last year, the majority of Washington’s City Council indicated it prefers to increase user fees rather than raise taxes or take the annexation route to raise additional revenues to pay for services such as Brown Library or recreation programs used by people who don’t live in the city.
During a discussion of how to find needed revenue to operate the library and recreation programs, both provided by the city, council members said it’s not equitable for city taxpayers to subsidize use of the library and city recreation programs by non-city residents. City officials continue to point out that more than half of the library’s users and more than half of participants in the city’s recreation programs don’t live in the city.
During a council meeting in October 2006, Councilman Archie Jennings said the city by itself cannot continue to fund Brown Library at the level it’s doing without money coming from another source or sources. The city allocated just under $400,000 to operate the library this fiscal year.
Jennings said it’s an “unfair burden” on city taxpayers to pay for services used by non-city residents, especially when certain services are used mostly by people who live outside the city.
With 64 percent of the library’s patrons living outside the city, it’s time those users do more help pay to operate the library, city officials contend. The county contributes $7,800 a year to help run Brown Library.
At the same meeting, Mayor Pro Tempore Darwin Woolard said it’s no secret that “people in the county know more about what we’ve got in the city” for them to use than many city residents know what’s offered by the city. Woolard said city taxpayers should be perturbed that they pay the bills for city services used by non-city residents.
One solution, but not the only solution, to the city’s financial woes is for the city to stop subsidizing the use of city services, facilities and programs by people who don’t live in the city or pay city taxes. That may be a harsh solution, but it’s one that needs exploring by the council and mayor during their planning session.
When it comes to funding inequities, the city must transform aggressive talk into aggressive action.