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Respected voice to weigh in on cityhood question

Freeland incorporation critic Stan Walker fears property taxes will rise without improvement of services to Holmes Harbor. - Spencer Webster
Freeland incorporation critic Stan Walker fears property taxes will rise without improvement of services to Holmes Harbor.
— image credit: Spencer Webster

People take note when Stan Walker speaks up.

The longtime community volunteer has never been afraid to show the courage of his convictions, from wading into contentious debates on the opinion pages of the local newspaper to his thoughtful leadership that helped the Holmes Harbor Water District through its bond crisis several years ago.

And as Freeland continues its march to cityhood in the coming year, many expect Walker to be the straight talker on the sidelines as the incorporation effort heads to the ballot.

Though Walker serves as a commissioner of the Holmes Harbor Water District, the

66-year-old Freeland resident has formed his own opinions about how well the urban growth area could become a financially-viable municipal entity.

A contentious issue Walker foresees is that Freeland will not be able to support itself fiscally without tax dollars coming from Holmes Harbor residents. He is worried that those same residents, however, will not receive improved police, fire or water district services in exchange for supporting Freeland’s revenue stream.

“I don’t object to Freeland becoming a city,” he said. “I just don’t want to be there when it happens because we are going to end up paying more money for no more services.”

“There is nothing Freeland can provide for us. Physically, it is laid out the way it is. It is not possible to provide street lights or sidewalks in our subdivision.”

Walker had hoped that he and others in the Holmes Harbor golf course community would have an opportunity to be included in the decision-making processes. It hasn’t happened.

“They haven’t indicated they want our cooperation. They want our money. I feel we are not going to be able to have a say in the process,” he said.

“The people who are most vocal about incorporation need to reach out and solicit cooperation from everybody in the community. They are hyping incorporation at the political level,” he added.

“Any logical person would ask ‘Why should we pay for something that would produce little benefit?’ The answer is so that bureaucrats could have money to spend,” he said.

The future annexation of the Holmes Harbor Sewer District into Freeland Water and Sewer District is another issue where Walker is raising a red flag about.

“For our area, Holmes Harbor Sewer District, our future includes being annexed into Freeland Water and Sewer District without regard to our water system,” he said.

“Once we are annexed, we become part of Freeland Water and Sewer District. And because we need to have representation in a political entity that is going to control our water bill, I am in favor.”

But, he said, the annexation also meant that utilities would have to be integrated and that Holmes Harbor residents would pay for utilities that would not be improved in their neighborhoods.

“We can develop a realistic plan to integrate utilities. A city has incredible power. Once Freeland becomes a city, utility districts become departments within the city council,” he said. “With that council, we will be able to establish utility taxes, maintenance and operation fees that Holmes Harbor division residents would have to pay with no increase in services.”

The key to the city’s financial future is its infrastructure, including a working sewer system, Walker added.

And until sewers get put in, he sees that property values within the city limits could be raised to twice their value without infrastructure to support the increase.

“Land is always worth more inside incorporated city limits than outside in the rural areas,” he said.

“That is a possibility. The difficulty is that to prematurely vote to become a city and think that is the solution to everyone’s problems is foolhardy because they will create a cash-starved municipal entity that makes no one happy.”

It is not all doom and gloom, Walker said.

“It can be done if it is done in an appropriate and right sequence. I do see Freeland eventually incorporated if they go about this in a logical progression.” he said. “They have been talking about it for six years without a spadeful of soil moved.”

Getting sewers in the ground is more important to him than worrying about sidewalks, he said.

“People are well-intentioned, but they put the cart before the horse. They need a functional sewer system,” he said. “They need to solve that real problem before they embark on the broader mission of accomplishing aesthetic goals.”

Walker was born in 1941 and raised in Canby, a small farming town in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. He joined the Navy and served at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in the mid- to late 1960s as an officer. He was a bombardier in A-6A Intruders and served in Vietnam, flying missions over North Vietnam.

He joined the FBI after leaving the service in 1969.

Walker retired from the FBI in 2000 after working for 28 years at various assignments within California.

“I spent my entire career in divisions in California, but work there took me to every part of the United States,” Walker said.

But because his two children currently live in the Puget Sound area, he and his wife decided to move closer to them.

Walker has challenged incorporation proponents to take a serious look at their incorporation push in Freeland.

“I know these people are very good people. I would encourage them to develop a strategic sequence of development that makes better sense than saying ‘We’ll all be a city and we’ll be happy,’” he said. “They need to focus on developing the sewer system before they incorporate. I think, highly, that the vote will fail without pipes in the ground.”

“People are very leery of giving a political entity the power to create solutions to problems that will affect them very dramatically without assurances that the ‘t’s are crossed and the ‘i’s dotted. They could be more successful if they don’t rush it.”

Walker is not opposed to Freeland’s growth as a city, he said. Freeland’s charm drew him to move there in 2001 from Eureka, Calif.

“It’s all wonderful; a beautiful place to live. The people, the neighbors, have a common community spirit. I can’t think of a better place to live,” he said.

Spencer Webster can be reached at 221-5300 or swebster@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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