South Whidbey residents launch campaign to push Prop. 1

Worried that Island County voters are woefully unaware of the upcoming property tax increase on the August ballot, a group of South End residents has launched a campaign to get Proposition 1 passed.

“I just don’t think many people are even aware of it,” Dave Anderson said of the levy-lift proposal.

“It’s summertime. This isn’t election time; that’s November,” he said, explaining why some people just aren’t tuned in to ballot measures right now. “They don’t know much about it. If you gave them a college test on it, they’d all flunk it.”

Earlier this week, Anderson and several other South End residents registered as a political action committee called “Island County Neighbors for Proposition 1” with the Public Disclosure Commission, the state agency that serves as a watchdog on campaign financing.

Anderson, the owner of Island Greens, is campaign manager for Island County Neighbors, and no stranger to the campaign trail, having served two terms in the state House of Representatives as a 10th District Democrat in the late 1990s.

Voters will decide the fate of Prop. 1 during the Aug. 17 Primary Election.

If approved, Prop. 1 would raise the county’s property tax levy for its general fund — the pot of money that pays for most government services — to 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed value in 2011. The levy is currently 51 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, but the levy is expected to rise early next year to 59 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. For the owner of a $350,000 home, the levy would mean a $56 annual tax increase.

County officials say the property tax increase is needed to save the county from impending financial ruin. A dramatic drop in sales-tax revenues and other funding streams has wreaked havoc on the county budget in the past two years. More than 60 jobs have already been cut, and $4.2 million trimmed in county spending since 2008. Officials have warned of even more drastic cuts to public safety and other basic government services if the levy fails at the ballot box and the county has to cut spending by an additional $5 million during the next five years.

The property tax increase is expected to bring in additional revenues of $2 million in 2011.

Anderson acknowledged the campaign promoting the proposition doesn’t have much time before ballots are mailed to voters later this month.

“It’s actually really late. I’m a little bit panicked that more hasn’t happened,” he said.

Anderson said the increase would be a small amount for most taxpayers.

“If you look at your overall tax bill, it’s hardly anything,” he said.

“I’m a real tight-fisted, economical guy,” Anderson added. “I’ll pay more than most people on this; I have six lots and a golf course. It’s not like I’m looking forward to more taxes. It’s do you want quality of life or don’t you? Do you want a sheriff’s deputy to be around or don’t you?”

The ballot measure has not been without controversy, however.

At recent forums hosted by the county on Prop. 1, some residents have criticized the county for seeking a tax increase at a time when many are struggling financially due to the dismal economy. Others have accused county officials of using scare tactics in their presentation of possible cutbacks, and critics have also said the levy is a permanent tax increase for a temporary problem.

Anderson, though, said the levy is crucial.

“I’m convinced that the county and city and state budgets are really at the point where if we don’t step up, we’re going to see a serious decline in the quality of life,” he said.

“These cuts are real. This isn’t just like there’s all this fat running around. I don’t think there ever was,” Anderson said.

Though support and opposition to Prop. 1 has been breaking along familiar political lines — the Island County Neighbors group is made up mostly of voters who have been registered Democrats, and its most vocal critics come from the Republican Party — Anderson said people of all political stripes appreciate the quality of life that’s found in Island County.

“Not everybody uses the sheriff on a daily basis, but by God, when you want them, you want them,” he said.

So far, the campaign effort under way by Island County Neighbors is modest. Anderson is making 100 yard signs, and looking for volunteers to help put them up. He said he plans to pass out signs at the Democratic Party fundraiser today in Langley.

Island County Neighbors reported campaign contributions of $550 as of Wednesday, with most of that amount coming from donations by County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson and Langley resident Robert Wolters.

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