Letters to the Editor

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Most expensive election in history

To the editor:

The November election has the potential to be one of the most expensive in history for Whidbey Island taxpayers. Let's look at some numbers:

First, the PUD proposal.

Backers say Puget Sound Energy's existing system could be purchased for $57 million; other estimates run as high as $200 million. Even if the lower estimate proves correct, the cost still figures out to more than $1,100 for every man, woman and child on Whidbey Island.

If the higher estimate is accurate, then the Puget Sound Energy system would cost each of us about $4,000. The final tally likely would be determined in court, but remember that lawyers' meters run a lot faster than electric meters. So figure a few million dollars more for attorneys' fees.

But that's just the beginning. If the PUD goes forward, it will also have to purchase expensive island property and build a headquarters to house an expensive computer system running expensive metering, billing and accounting software. The cost for all that probably would run well into another eight digits.

Then the PUD would have to hire and train people to operate and maintain the system--accountants, meter readers, customer-service representatives, technical support people, administrative staff, etc.--and each of those would have to be paid a competitive salary plus health and retirement benefits. All that would come out of our pockets, too, either in rates, property taxes or both.

The PUD also would have to purchase property - probably in two locations, one north and one south - and erect buildings to house, store and service equipment. It would have to buy a fleet of trucks, some with hydraulic lifts for linemen. Then it would have to hire and train linemen, mechanics and engineers to use the equipment and service the electrical system. Figure another eight- or nine-digit expense, and once more you'd be footing the bill.

Along with the cost of training, those employees also would have to be paid competitive salaries and benefits. Reach for your wallet again.

Then there would be the expense of purchasing parts to maintain the system; spare transformers, wire, splicing materials, meters, tools, and all the million-and-one other gadgets and gizmos needed to keep a complex electrical transmission system in operation. Who knows what that would cost? We do know who would be on the hook for the bill, though: We would.

If we could somehow manage to pay for all that, could we then be assured of cheaper electric rates at some point in the distant future?

Not necessarily. PUD backers say cheap electricity will be available from the Bonneville Power Administration, but the fact is there have been repeated attempts in Congress to force the BPA to raise its rates, which are lower than rates in most other parts of the country. So far Northwest congressional representatives have successfully deflected those efforts, but there's no guarantee that will continue to be the case.

The point is that whether you like them or not, Puget Sound Energy already has all this stuff in place, and you and I, as ratepayers, already helped pay for it. I, for one, am not anxious to pay for it all again, especially as part of a much smaller group of ratepayers.

The PUD proposal is a money-sucking black hole. It might have made sense 50 years ago, but now it's far beyond our means. It should be defeated.

The Langley marina is another proposal that would add substantially to your property taxes.

One of the sponsoring port commissioners says the marina would generate $2 million a year in new economic activity on South Whidbey.

Really? That means the marina would somehow have to generate nearly $5,500 in new economic activity every day of the year, fair weather or foul, weekends and holidays included. The chances of that happening are about as good as the chances of George W. Bush winning a popularity contest.

A new marina might be nice to have, but at a time of economic turmoil, high fuel costs and slumping boat sales, it's just not a practical idea. We can't afford it. It should be sunk along with the PUD.

As for the community swimming pool proposal, it won't add that much to your property taxes, but if you really want a place to swim, I would simply remind you that we all live on an island.

Steve Raymond


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