Opinion

Editorial

"While raising property taxes only 2 percent, the Island County Commissioners managed to meet several county needs in the 2001 budget they approved last week.In September, Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley made an impassioned plea for more help, saying his department is near the breaking point. He didn't get all the help he sought, but the commissioners found enough money to add another regular deputy plus a corrections deputy. Also in the criminal justice arena, Prosecutor Greg Banks received the additional deputy prosecuting attorney he was seeking to address a felony caseload increase of 50 percent since 1997.Other departments didn't fare so well. Island County Superior Court sought two additional employees, but obtained no relief in this year's budget. Requests for new employees by the Auditor's Office and Planning Department were also axed. But, overall, the commissioners at least made some improvements while working under significant fiscal restraints.The county has yet to recover from the fiscal impacts of last year's Initiative 695. On top of that is this year's Initiative 722, which limits property tax increases to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. Like most jurisdictions in Island County, the commissioners decided to heed the I-722 limit even though it is constitutionally suspect, and one state agency had advised that it can be ignored. But it's not wise to ignore the will of the people, at least not until it has been officially declared invalid by the courts.Interestingly, one new Island County position was added, that of a visiting nurse. This is something that Commissioner Mac McDowell emphasized in his re-electon campaign, and with the help of Mike Shelton and Bill Thorn the position was added. The nurse will visit new mothers and help start babies off on the right path.The visiting nurse was a good addition, but to provide this new service plus some other needs the commissioners had to dip into their rainy day fund for the second consecutive year. At this rate, the fund may not last long. In addition, county employees have been agitating for more pay and benefits.The commissioners did a good job to pass an adequate 2001 budget while limiting property taxes to 2 percent. But if they can do the same thing next year it will be a miracle. "

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