Opinion

Editorial

"Ferry users need to unite and fightWashington State Ferries is anticipating rate increases averaging 50 percent over two years, but still that won't be enough to maintain the boats and docking facilities -- an entirely new funding source will be needed to assure the system's existence in coming years.All this is old news, of course. As old as I-695 which passed in November and victimized State Ferries because of its dependence on the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax.Now that the Washington State Legislature is in session, it is disconcerting that there is little sense of emergency in how to restore funding to the ferries. For one thing, this is the off year session, and for another there isn't much money available. Still, the lack of any concrete ideas floating around is cause for concern among the thousands of ferry-dependent people on Whidbey Island, and the hundreds of thousands of others around Puget Sound. The reason for this is that any suggestion to raise fees or taxes is politically risky, and, according to I-695, would ultimately require a vote of the people.The proposed rate increases, draconian as they may be, would at least tide the ferry system over until the next budget-setting legislative session, which begins in January 2001. That may seem like a long time in the future, but in fact there's barely enough time for ferry supporters to get organized.The battle for the budget in 2001 will make the Battle of Seattle seem like a minor skirmish, so ferry-dependent communities must adopt a united plan and create a united front. Give our representatives something concrete to work and a deep well of support they can tap into when the going gets tough.Island County, KItsap County, Snohomish County, King County, Pierce County, Jefferson County and San Juan County all have a common interest in not just preserving ferry service, but in improving it. Respected, knowledgeable people from all these counties should get together, come up with a plan, and have it endorsed by their respective county government and the governments of each city within the counties. It would make sense for county governments to make the appointments to this regional ferry users' group.Standing together, the ferry-dependent counties will be a force that's impossible to ignore in Olympia next year -- even an Olympia dominated by Eastern Washington fruit growers.It's time to play hardball and save the ferries. As we all know, it takes a strong team to win, whether the game is hardball or politics.Public agencies watch our dollarsPeople expect public agencies to do a good job, and that explains why it's news when they don't. Budget problems prompt public complaints and extensive news coverage, while no problems result in little of either.But still, when a good job is being done it's worth noting. And on Whidbey Island, our various public bodies are doing an excellent job of watching taxpayers' dollars. Who says so? That Washington State Auditor's Office, that's who.In recent months, the Auditor's Office has issued reports on Island County government, the city of Langley, South Whidbey Park & Recreation District, Island Transit, South Whidbey School District, Fire District 3, and the Port of South Whidbey. Without exception, these agencies headed by our elected officials came up clean, or, in the dry speech so popular with accountants, each agency audited complied with state laws and regulations and its own policies and procedures.The state Auditor's Office does an excellent job of watching over the smaller governmental districts. The cost of the audit process is, of course, borne by taxpayers in each district. But the cost is minimal in the overall budget picture, and the results show that in Island County our dollars are accounted for properly. And that's something the public should know. "

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