Letters to the Editor, Oct. 31, 218

Proposition 1

Firefighters for Prop 1

Your Mercer Island firefighters truly care about you, the people we serve. We help people when they are most in need. We do this day in and day out, there is no way to do this, and not develop a connection to the people we serve. As part of our job, we live on the island part time, further weaving us into the fabric of the community.

As another part of our job, we interact with our counterparts in other communities, firefighters who also serve. Often Mercer Island is perceived as quite wealthy, and as a result other fire departments think we have, “plenty of money.” The fact of the matter is that Mercer Island is very lean and there is no extra money. We have mostly adequate resources to do our jobs, but there is certainly no “fat” to cut. We run far leaner than any of our counterparts.

We want what is best for this community, and a vote of Yes on Proposition 1 will help to maintain the services here, and keep this island the very special place that it is. The fact of the matter is that about $1 a day per household will maintain our existing services, but a yes vote is needed to make that happen.

It is disappointing to see some treat this issue as their political sandbox, to push the small government, tea-party philosophy. The “45-percent tax increase” is silliness, created as a scare tactic using math that is, at best, suspect. In this case following those small government ideals would result in a cut in services for the people of Mercer Island. This is what city staff is saying, and this is also what the non-partisan Citizens Advisory Group (CAG) determined, after studying the issue for months. Your firefighters are encouraging you to vote “Yes” on Proposition 1.

Ray Austin

President, IAFF Local 1762

Mercer Island

Quoted without context

I was amazed to see myself quoted and then my name used a second time in the mailer circulated this week by the opponents to Proposition 1, the levy lid lift. You have already seen misleading information from them about the levy, carefully twisted facts and now an unabashed misrepresentation of my position.

Let there be no mistake – I voted to put Prop 1 on the ballot, and I support Prop 1.

These are some of my statements from the July 10 council meeting that they chose not to quote:

“Let’s fully fund the things we care about that the Citizens Advisory Group has said everyone cares about…”

“Let’s set a policy for a Contingency Fund that is adequate.”

“This is our one chance to get this right and right to me is beyond 6 years, it is the long view. I grew up on Mercer Island. My wife grew up on Mercer Island. We have a son who is growing up on Mercer Island and I want the future for him to be what we’ve had and I don’t want it to be a lower level of service or quality of service.”

Prop 1 didn’t come quickly, as the other side claims.

For more than two years, the city council, a 23-member Citizens Advisory Group, independent consultants and staff leaders have looked at numerous options for addressing the City’s structural imbalance. These included spending down reserves, raising utility taxes, raising business taxes, raising fees and cutting services.

All have agreed that a levy lid lift is the best option for addressing our operating deficit.

Without Prop 1, we will have no choice but to cut services. Please understand how the budget cuts will impact the things we all value: school counselors, parks, senior services, our fire and police, and the financial health of the city.

In this election, Islanders are deciding whether to spend an average of $1/day to retain the city services we value and responsibly build our reserves to maintain the well-run city government we have. I believe this is the right thing to do.

I am voting “Yes” for Prop 1, and I encourage my fellow Islanders to do the same.

Deputy Mayor Salim Nice

Mercer Island

Five reasons to vote “No, not this levy” on Prop. 1

My name is Kathy Moffett McDonald and I believe in an active and engaged community of citizens who support their government and elected officials. I believe that people usually have the best of intentions. As a past leader of School Board levy campaigns, past PTA president, city task force member, frequent speaker at city council and school board meetings, and lifelong Mercer Island resident, I truly wanted to support Mercer Island’s Proposition 1, which is a complicated decision. But after looking closely as this levy lid lift, I am giving myself permission to say “No, not this levy.”

This doesn’t mean I am an “anti-government-Island-extremist-no-new-taxes-ever person.” And, it shouldn’t mean that my fellow islanders can’t disagree with me. Sharp, well-informed active citizens can disagree and it’s healthy for democracy, even local democracy. It means that I don’t support this levy, but I might support a different, better crafted, more needed levy in the future. By voting no, I am saying to the city council: Do over, try again, come up with something better, please. I am not screaming “No” in their faces. I have friends and relatives on all sides of this debate, and I believe that we should and can discuss politics like civil adults. I believe that we can, and should, start over and find a new solution. Here are the five reasons why I’m voting “No, not this levy” on Prop. 1:

1. We don’t need a general fund levy lid lift right now: It’s documented that we have $47 million in total reserves, and the Washington State Auditor confirmed that $19 million of that is discretionary. We don’t need a general fund levy lid lift now. I would prefer that we wait another year and see where we are. Historically, our financial projections in this city have been conservative.

2. 45 percent and 4 percent increases – Both numbers are correct and both are permanent tax increases: Both campaigns are correct. This levy will increase your city taxes 25 percent in the first year and 3 percent in years two through six which equals a total of 45 percent property tax increase on the slice that is your city property taxes. For Prop. 1, we are only voting on the city tax portion of your property tax bill, not the entire thing. And yes, this Prop. 1 increase would be a 4 percent increase on your overall property tax bill (that includes a multitude of other taxes from Sound Transit, King County Library System, etc. which the city doesn’t control) …so, both campaigns are right, and it just depends on how you look at it. What I don’t like about this levy is that after the six-year-term, it does not go back to zero like most other levies providing built-in accountability. This levy is a permanent tax increase and it stays at the new level. That’s wrong and poorly worded. It’s also wrong that we don’t have an exemption written in this levy for low-income seniors.

3. What about the big stuff? I’d happily support a capital levy for specific items like fixing our aging water pipes, community mental health care counselors, maintaining our parks, supporting our police. But, this Prop. 1 levy is for the general fund budget. While the Yes signs say, “save our kids, parks, police, fire,” they could easily say “save our 26 new employees, flowers on Island Crest Way, or pay for fuel in our fleet vehicles.” Those items are all in our general fund budget, too. Prop. 1 is looking to solve an imbalance only with raising city taxes. A good place to start before going to taxpayers is to look for opportunities that already exist. An example: Mercer Island is an outlier that doesn’t apply and attempt to receive grants under the King County Best Starts for Kids Program. It should be noted that Mercer Island taxpayers contribute nearly $1.5-2 million a year into this program. Let’s get our general fund budget in order, first.

4. Stop playing political football with our counselors: Our beloved Mercer Island Youth & Family Services Youth & Senior Counselors are paid for by three sources: The City MIYFS budget (Thrift Store), the MIYFS Foundation, and a small amount by the Mercer Island School District. Over the summer of 2018, I spoke at two city council and one school board meeting in favor of a single-issue levy supporting the counselors. I wanted that levy for two reasons: first to protect the service and get it out of the general fund, thereby freeing up money for other line items; and second so that no one could threaten to cut or play political football with these counselors. I really wish we had a single-issue levy on the ballot this time, but we don’t.

5. Stop spending money, please: Like other Islanders, little bits of extra spending in this time of “financial crisis” annoy me. While these may be good expenditures at some point, did we really need to do now paint a mural at the West Mercer Way off-ramp, hire a $100,000 assistant for the city manager and fill several other new positions? If you found out you needed a new roof on your house, you would likely put a freeze on spending: You would stop remodeling your bathroom and you probably wouldn’t hire a new cleaning person or interior decorator. You’d save your money to pay for the “must do’s” before the “may do’s.” Why have we not had a new “spending freeze” on any discretionary spending during this “financial crisis”? This kind of spending makes me think that our city government is not sticking to a budget or sustainable spending of the general fund. I’d like to see that happen first before supporting a levy lid lift.

In summary, I am voting “No, not this levy,” try again, do over. I am giving myself permission to say no and still be a friend of the city council, city government and my fellow Island residents on the other side. Count me in the moderate middle.

Kathy Moffett McDonald

Mercer Island

Funding pet projects

Thank you for publishing a front page story on Proposition 1. It gave a very clear exposition of the Mercer Island City Council’s rationalization for a 45-percent compounded tax increase, especially the vagueness of the financial projections upon which the proposition is based.

I was surprised, however, that you left out perhaps the most innovative aspect of the council’s intended use for the funds to be appropriated — the new arts and culture coordinator to “plan, develop and coordinate comprehensive arts and culture on Mercer Island” (job rec 18-0020). It’s always exciting when government gets involved in citizens’ personal pursuits, instead of the mundane business of fixing potholes and maintaining public safety. As a yoga practitioner I can’t wait for the yoga coordinator to be named — as I am sure are the cyclists, boaters, etc. Don’t we all deserve to have our own coordinator? Doesn’t non-discrimination require that each rent-seeking group get its own coordinator?

And why not? As long as the citizens consent to fork over additional taxes on the flimsiest pretext the bureaucracy will find ways to spend it.

Brian Kuttner

Mercer Island

What Prop 1 vote tells council

If you are interested in learning how much Proposition 1 will raise your property taxes here is an interesting website. (Link below) Input your address and reference the tabs for pie charts and numbers listing exactly where your property taxes go. (With all the discussion on Prop 1, I think it is very informative. Should we all be paying so much for our library is a thought I had, and it is eye-opening to see other amounts and percentages.)

In the end, it is important to remember that our vote for Prop 1 is a vote telling the city of Mercer Island and our city council and city manager that we support them and the way they are running the island currently.

So far they are:

1. Not sticking to a budget.

2. Won’t perform any cost containment measures.

3. Have resisted performance reviews or metrics.

4. Ignored many of the recommendations of the Citizen Advisory Group (CAG).

5. Forgot the senior exemption.

6. Made the levy permanent.

7. Devoted not one dime to reserves.

8. Nothing will be put toward our significant infrastructure needs which include our water and sewer line replacement for the entire island.

Instead we were threatened with cutting necessities like fire and police instead of non-essentials when our city council has said this will not be the case. Also threatening school counselors when our city council has said this will be a priority in funding and fundraising sources are also available as the community values these special services which make Mercer Island unique.

So, do you support this way of running our island?

Remember to vote. Around a third of us have so far. The Mercer Island drop off box is at the Mercer Island Community Center.


Elizabeth Buckley

Mercer Island

Senior programs essential

It is about the money- and fiscal responsibility- and these wonderful services.

What percent of a year’s expenses do we Mercer Island householders feel we need in savings in case of serious personal trouble? Would 10 percent be comfortable? How much should a city have?

I appreciate greatly this island’s engaged citizenry. It is hard work to be well informed about the issues. I am grateful for the 23 people who served on the CAG (Community Advisory Group) to consider the tough questions about our city budget and for the hard-working council members who make the tough decisions.

Very personally, after 41 years here taking advantage of the great schools, parks, community activities and sports fields, I find myself particularly grateful now for the geriatric specialist and the many excellent programs for seniors. If I throw in how the Mercer Island police have recently recovered my bike twice — with help from the Mercer Island parks department and, believe it or not, the Seattle Public Library — I am over-the-top enthused about the amount and quality of municipal services provided to us.

The Proposition 1 FAQs mailing recently provided clear explanations of the approximate 12 percent of the King County property tax that goes to Mercer Island. In graph form it shows our proposed levy lid lift would increase the total King County property tax for a $1.2 million house to increase by 2.7 percent. It also provided the efficiency gains enacted and clarity about how funds are used. I have also looked online at the cuts anticipated without passage of Proposition 1 as the city seeks to increase the reserve by a couple of percentage points and fully fund those services required by law. I have seen the losses we will sustain in other services. I am aware of how our efficiency compares favorably to neighboring cities.

Therefore, I am grateful that the majority of that CAG recommended Proposition 1 enabling our Mercer Island city portion of the King County property tax to catch up to our current need. Hopefully after Nov. 6 we will know that this most useful geriatric specialist will still be working a full work week to advise us many Mercer Island seniors. I will be voting for Proposition 1.

Harriett Morton

Mercer Island

Why I am Voting Yes on Proposition 1

My family moved to Mercer Island for the wonderful community, excellent services, and good schools. We enjoy the parks and the beaches that are maintained by the city. My father-in-law took part in programs at the Community Center both as a volunteer and a participant and looked forward to volunteering at Summer Celebration. I’ve worked with other volunteers maintaining our local parks.

When a city water pipe broke starting a landslide on a Sunday the city crew was there. The building inspector arrived promptly to inspect and approve the electrical work we had done. The fire department arrived quickly one predawn morning to put out a brush fire before it could spread into the ravine and surrounding homes. Main roads are plowed when it snows. There are many other services supported by the city.

I took all of this for granted until I saw a sign implying that our property tax would go up by 45 percent and we should vote NO on Proposition 1. A 45 percent increase is horrifying. But the increase in our taxes is not 45 percent. The Mercer Island portion of our property tax is about 12 percent. Proposition 1 is asking Islanders to pay 5 percent more in total property taxed by 2024 than they are paying today, not 45 percent. The average homeowner will pay about $1 per day in additional taxes. And, we will still have excellent public services

Inflation has increased the cost of services above the amount the city is generating in revenue. The state has imposed a 1 percent cap on increases in property taxes revenue without asking voters for the tax. If we, the voters don’t give the city the authority to increase local taxes, the city will have to cut or eliminate services. This is not crying wolf. It is the fiscal reality. Please vote YES to maintain the quality of life on Mercer Island.

Greg Lipton

Mercer Island