Proposition 1 – Tax Levy Lift
I believe one of our city’s best decisions was to form the Citizen’s Advisory Group (CAG) to examine our community’s health and give recommendations for its future. My reasoning is it brought together 23 residents with leadership, financial and business skills, able to add wisdom to our community’s decision-making process that we couldn’t have easily obtained otherwise.
At a basic financial level, CAG members highlighted the imbalance in community revenue streams giving us the area’s highest property taxes per family and lowest retail sales tax base of any Northwest city. At a community level, CAG members highlighted the important qualities that make Mercer Island a special place to live and the importance of balanced decisions, so all residents feel heard and represented.
Sadly, CAG input was either not understood or just not followed by our city council. This led to the recommendation by them for a levy lift that does not address our community’s revenue imbalance and risks our most important asset, our residents.
The voters are left with a singular question, “How do we unravel a bad decision and mend the rift it has caused in our community?”
I recommend we do it with a “No” vote on Proposition 1.
While there is concern that this puts us back at square one, what was shown in the CAG is that while our financial future looks in need of new efficiencies and revenue streams, it is not so dire that we can’t take the time needed to do the right thing.
I think it also important to note that voting “No” now does not mean that we can’t vote “Yes” later on if we see this as a better route. All we are doing is giving our city leadership time to understand if we really have a problem, and time to comprehend wisdom given them from a very competent and skilled set of CAG members.
Proposition 1 neither puts Mercer Island on a road to good health nor considers all our citizens, especially those of lower and fixed incomes. We need real solutions that won’t harm our community.
Member of the CAG majority
Further study needed for Prop 1
My family loves living here. We especially enjoy interacting with our more seasoned community members. Our retired neighbors have been so kind to my two young children. At the park, we often meet older citizens who share kindness and life wisdom. In the super market, would be grandmas indulge my kids as they terrorize the aisles with miniature grocery carts. Walking through the town center, senior citizens speak caring words and are willing to lend a hand.
Mercer Island is special for many reasons one of which is the inter-generational make-up of our community. Together, let’s do everything we can to protect this special place. There is a program which would exempt our most vulnerable from increased city property taxes (if Proposition 1 passes) however, our city council chose not to include the required language which would allow our seniors and disabled friends to apply. The very population the city is purporting to “help” may actually be irreparable harmed and forced out of their homes if Proposition 1 passes.
The city needs further study to truly understand the levy language it is drafting. A “No” vote gives the city time ensure that all citizens are given an opportunity to continue living in a place they love and with the community they created. Please join me in protecting our seniors and vote “No” on Proposition 1.
Worth sharpening our pencils
If you are voting “No” on the levy because you are willing to live with less in order to save a few hundred dollars a year I respect that. I’m not walking in your family’s budget shoes. But I think we have something here worth sharpening our pencils for: A quality of life that I think we’ve come to expect, excellent and plentiful parks, public safety and support services for our citizens to name a few. And keep in mind it’s about a dollar a day increase for most Islanders — and that is a 24 hour day — think fire and police that are there for us 24/7.
We — yes you and I — have a big job running this city, and we have done a pretty good job so far. We are engaged, we volunteer, we vote and we enjoy our island environment and our community, and we recognize that its needs are diverse and complex. We balance those needs as we balance the budget. Nobody gets everything the way they want it. But…
We’ve always balanced the budget. We have a AAA bond rating. State auditors and independent consultants report that our city finances are well managed. We are more efficient than other full-service Eastside cities. Our staffing ratio (employees/population) is the lowest for administrative staffing, and the second lowest for all employees.
We’ve challenged our council and staff to tighten their belts, but the bottom line is Washington state cities are limited to a 1-percent increase in property tax revenue each year, and property taxes are Mercer Island’s largest source of revenue. Obviously, expenses rise more rapidly, and every so often a levy lid lift is necessary.
Maintain and protect our city services. Maintain our quality of life. Vote “Yes.”
As is probably true with most Mercer Island citizens, I’m trying to make sense of Proposition 1, the so-called “levy lift.” Right now, I’m neither for nor against the proposition.
I’ve heard from the “Yes” Islanders’ campaign on why tax increases are necessary — we are entering into a deficit if the city doesn’t increase revenues. The city is threatening to cut funding to two elementary school counselors, as well as reduce park maintenance costs, and cut Community Center programming.
On the Mercer Island for Sustainable Spending Campaign (MISSC) side, the argument is that the city is inefficient, needs to stick to its budget, isn’t fiscally responsible.
My decisions are generally based on facts, and I favor people who propose solutions. I would like to know how the MISSC specifically proposes more efficiency from the city? What is the city doing that’s either inefficient, irresponsible or a waste of money? What should be eliminated, cut back or reassessed? Where is the city being mismanaged?
Complaining about tax increases doesn’t help. Offering specific ideas, proposals and solutions will help all citizens of Mercer Island.
Must plan in advance
Mercer Islanders were favored once again with a mass email from former city councilmember Mike Cero on saving money by withholding necessary operating revenues from our city police, fire, parks, kids and seniors.
I will leave the technical rebuttal to others, but I do want to say something about the proclamation of “350-plus endorsers.”
Our funding of first-rate schools, our wonderful community center and our city’s purchase of unique properties for parklands and recreation have all been criticized by a small and vocal minority of my fellow residents.
What encourages me, however, is the vast number of Islanders who feel the need to invest in our community assets to keep our island a wonderful place to live. So when I see a small number of critics, I look to those friends, neighbors and former public servants who believe that a “Yes” vote is necessary and important.
Five (of seven) councilmembers, six former mayors, our state representatives, 17 (of 23) members of our Citizens Advisory Group studying this very issue, and so many more people of influence, intelligence and compassion endorse this proposition. You can find a better compilation online at www.islandersyes.com.
What is even more important to me, however, is the fiscal integrity of our city. As the city’s financial advisors have emphasized, the levy is necessary to build a small reserve in times when our economy is strong, so we are not forced to react to emergencies without the money to meet them. I had the privilege of directing a municipal entity with 1,300 employees and four unions: You simply cannot react to the costs of running a city, including the hiring of skilled and professional police and fire, building and parks employees, without adequate resources. You plan in advance for necessary personnel costs or run a serious risk of losing valuable services when the needs are critical.
I respect Cero’s attempt, as a former councilmember, to retain some voice in our city. It is the wrong voice, in my view. I am voting “Yes” on Mercer Island Proposition No. 1.
Stephen A. Smith
Keep Mercer Island a special place
My family has been fortunate to be part of the Mercer Island community for more than 17 years. We take pride in enjoying a safe and special community that values the well-being of all residents. Mercer Island is fortunate to have wonderful parks, diligent public safety professionals, and social services like school and family counselors that virtually everyone believes provide immeasurable value to our children. Effective governmental services are a crucial ingredient in any successful community, and we are fortunate to have them.
Therefore, I am voting “Yes” in support of Proposition 1 because I want to maintain Mercer Island’s quality of life and prevent cuts to existing services. Mercer Island’s revenues come from few sources – primarily property taxes, licenses and fees, and sales and utility taxes. The services provided as a result of these revenues have a common element, they are a reflection of the value that Islanders have, over time, placed on service levels and necessary investments in our community.
City services, and the employees who provide them, support our community in innumerable ways. Our fire department does not simply fight fires — it conducts safety inspections, supports emergency preparedness, and provides EMS, rescues and public education services. Likewise, in addition to conducting patrols and investigations, our police department handles wellness checks, community-oriented policing, marine patrol and community relations. The city’s public works department maintains our streets, rights-of-way, streetlights and city-provided utility services. They are the ones who remove downed tree branches, de-ice the streets, or clear water basins after storms. They also fix the potholes, respond to landslides, and oversee major capital improvement projects like walkways near schools, parks and major roadways. Without fail the city employees I know or have encountered over the years are respectful professionals who take pride in their efforts on behalf of the community.
Whether it is public safety, quality of life or city services, I support a modest property tax increase of approximately $1 per day as a reasonable investment in the fabric of our community. I respectfully ask other Islanders to join me in saying “Yes” to maintaining the quality of life and services we appreciate on Mercer Island.
Please join me in keeping Mercer Island a special place for our families by supporting Proposition 1.