Croker Sack

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." — Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Sun Spots: Kitsap Sun Endorses KRL Property Tax Lid Lift -- Sight Unseen

The opinion published in today's edition of the Kitsap Sun supports voter approval of a property tax increase ballot proposition that neither the voters, the Kitsap Regional Library board of trustees, nor the Sun's editors have seen.

Next year, KRL is planning to ask Kitsap voters to approve a one-year levy. The measure is needed to help maintain the library’s level of services, considering its levy rate has been reduced by almost 10 percent over five years.

By any measure, Kitsap Regional Library offers residents here one of the most progressive and successful mid-sized library systems in the nation — and it shouldn’t be taken for granted. We hope you’ll remember that now ... and also next year.

It seems that knowledge is not one of the things the editors believe to be necessary before deciding how to vote on a ballot measure.

By how much would the Kitsap Regional Library board like to increase its tax revenue? Wouldn't it be nice to know this little bit of information before deciding whether to endorse the idea?

The editors describe the proposal as a "one-year levy," but they are surely wrong. A levy increase for only one year would be useful for a one-time capital expenditure, but not for meeting operating costs that purportedly exceed the revenue provided by the tax increase authorized by Initiative 747 without voter approval.

The proposal being considered by the library board is certainly what is called a permanent lid lift. If the voters approve, the library's levy lid would be raised to whatever limit the voters allowed for the following year -- and that next year's levy would set the lid for all subsequent levies until another lid lift is authorized by the voters. In short, taxes would be permanently higher, not just higher for one year.

The editors make the strange statement that a voter-approved levy increase is needed because the library system's "levy rate has been reduced by almost 10 percent over five years."

The effect of I-747 on the tax rate would perhaps be a reason to approve a lid lift, if the library spent its tax rate.

It doesn't spend its tax rate. It spends its tax revenue.

The relevant information is missing from the opinion, i.e., by how much has the library's tax revenue increased in the past five years?

Oddly enough, that information is also missing from the article which apparently prompted the editorial opinion to be written. In place of the needed information about the increases in revenue is an untrue statement about the effect of I-747:

Voter-approved Initiative 747, passed in 2001, caps annual budget growth of libraries at 1 percent. As property values increase, the library district’s tax rate drops, and revenues are limited to a 1 percent increase.

The first version of the article's statement made this stunningly wrong statement (since corrected):

Voter-approved Initiative 747, passed in 2001, caps annual budget growth of libraries at 1 percent, meaning that as property values increase, the library district’s revenue drops.

Anyone who has paid the least attention over the past few years knows that I-747 does not limit the increases in property tax revenue available for the library system's budget to 1 percent a year. It doesn't have that effect on any taxing district's property tax revenue increases.

The article also contained this explanation from the KRL spokeswoman about this year's increased expenditures:

Library officials say the cap in revenue gradually has limited funding for aging facilities and ultimately could lead to cuts in services, including the ones being implemented now.

"We’re hoping that everyone enjoys these new hours and services so much that they won’t want to give them up," Newell said.

How's that for forward thinking? The libraries will increase spending this year by staying open longer, among other things, and then plan to ask for a tax increase next year -- based on the fact that the spending increases aren't sustainable without a lid lift.

The editors describe this situation as one in which a lid lift is needed to "maintain the library's level of services." Odd, isn't it? They increased their expenditures just this year to a level that may require a lid lift to sustain, and that action is seen by the editors as the "level of services" which ought to be maintained.

Why not maintain the level of services that can be sustained without a lid lift, and then ask the voters for an increase in order to raise the level of services? The spokeswoman gives the reason: It may be easier to persuade people not to force a cut in services (especially if the proponents remain as silent next year about the beginning date of those services as they apparently now are about the actual revenue increases enjoyed by the library over the past five years).

Since the editors of the Kitsap Sun find this tax increase to be acceptable sight-unseen and based on a total absence of information about the impact of I-747 on the library's revenues, a reasonable person surely would wonder if there is a tax increase that the editors wouldn't like.

Heck, even an unreasonable guy like me wonders.


Post a Comment

<< Home