Fault lines begin to emerge on Prop. 1

Republicans in Island County are lining up squarely in opposition to Proposition 1, the measure on the Primary Election ballot that would raise property taxes to pay for basic county services.

Republicans who aren’t running for re-election, that is.

GOP officials said Monday that a recent poll shows party members are opposed to Prop. 1, and the Island County Central Committee is taking an official position against the tax-levy hike.

A possible split among Republicans, however, is becoming apparent on Prop. 1. According to an e-mail survey of candidates running for office this year conducted by the Record, at least one Republican seeking re-election favors Prop. 1, while those hoping to win a seat in county government are adamantly opposed.

“I will be voting no on Proposition 1 because I feel it is due time for the government to live within its means,” said Kelly Emerson, a Republican candidate seeking to win the District 3 county commissioner’s post now held by Democrat John Dean.

Emerson, of Camano Island, also helped write the statement against Prop. 1 that appears in the county’s voters’ guide.

“Spending priorities must be established and fiscal responsibility must be practiced,” Emerson said.

Carol Ann Fortune, the Republican challenger for the county clerk position who is running against incumbent clerk Patricia Terry and fellow Democrat Debra Van Pelt, said she also opposes the levy increase.

“Higher taxes hinder economic freedom and growth,” Fortune said.

“I am definitely against any and all tax increases!” added Shane Fortune, her husband and a GOP candidate for county treasurer.

Fortune is running against Democrat Ana Maria Nuñez.

“High taxation at all levels of government is one of the main causes of this extended recession that we’re currently suffering,” Fortune said. “Raising taxes will only make the recession more severe and last even longer.”

“What we need to do is to cut taxes,” Fortune added. “Presidents Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy and Calvin Coolidge each pushed major tax cuts through Congress, which caused the economy to grow.”

Bill Carruthers, chairman of the Island County Republican Party, said a poll of rank-and-file members — precinct committee officers and committee chairs — was taken after the Island County Central Committee meeting on July 22. A total of 28 members voted, and the party is now officially opposed.

The lone voice among Republican county leaders for Prop. 1 is Sheriff Mark Brown, who said he is worried that public safety will be jeopardized if the measure fails and deputies lose their jobs. Brown is running unopposed for reelection in November.

“Cutting 10 percent more of my budget would involve a reduction in personnel that would greatly hamper both public and officer safety in Island County,” Brown said.

“I personally feel that law and justice should be prioritized and suffer no more cuts. I’ve been told by the county budget director that if the levy does not pass, further cuts in law and justice will happen,” he said. “For that reason I will be voting in favor of the levy lid lift proposal.”

Auditor Sheilah Crider, a Republican running unopposed for reelection, said she was precluded by statute from supporting or opposing any ballot measure.

“I have no position on this ballot measure,” Crider said.

County Coroner Robert Bishop, a Republican also seeking reelection, did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the levy.

His opponent, Paul Thompson — a former registered Democrat who is running without a party affiliation — also did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

To a person, Democrats running for election this year said they intend to vote in favor of Prop. 1.

“Do I want to pay more taxes? Of course not. Am I willing to pay more taxes? Absolutely,” said Nuñez.

“Frankly, I like the services I currently receive. I do not enjoy the prospect of not having services available if I should need them, or not having them available for my neighbors and friends,” she said.

“I will be voting yes because if the ballot fails I am looking at another 5-percent reduction in staffing,” said Auditor Dave Mattens. “Pretty simple, huh?”

“I’ll vote for it even though I disagree with some of the budgeting priorities adopted by the county,” County Prosecutor Greg Banks said in an e-mail to the Record.

“The situation is so dire now that, even if the county commissioners had followed my advice and eliminated spending on all non-core functions, we would still have a seven-figure deficit next year,” he said.

“I warned against the danger of dismantling the law and justice system, and that is what we are on the verge of doing. It seems to me that if each owner of a $250,000 home can keep that from happening by kicking in $40/year, that’s not a terrible price to pay,” Banks said.

“I will vote to support the levy lid lift because without it, essential public services are in extreme jeopardy,” said Terry, the incumbent county clerk. “I do not want my government having to decide which they can afford — feeding hungry children, or prosecuting criminal offenses.

“Tightening the belt helps for a while; but there comes a point of diminishing return: A belt tightened too tight makes it impossible to breathe,” she said.

Dean said he was also voting yes.

“I am willing to sacrifice some more, just as my forefathers did throughout history during revolutionary and economic crises,” Dean said. “We need to at least take care of ourselves here at home, no matter what happens in both Washingtons over the next five years.”

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