Voters approve Proposition 1, will raise money for county programs and services

An 11th-hour reprieve stood between some of the more popular publicly-funded programs in San Juan County and the chopping block.

Voters granted that reprieve.

As of Friday, 3,504 voters said “yes” to Proposition 1, which will raise property taxes 12 cents per $1,000 of assessed value; 2,603 voted “no.”

The measure will provide funding for county parks, public health, senior services and WSU Extension programs, such as 4-H and Master Gardeners. Those programs were threatened by $1 million in county budget cuts.

In addition, on Orcas Island, residents there voted 999 to 437 to create a park and recreation district. Recreation programs there were formerly funded by the county.

On the eve of the election, Council Chairman Rich Peterson was apprehensive about the odds of Prop. 1 passing. The county, he noted, was seeking a tax hike at a time when nearly everyone has been forced to scale back expenses as the local economy sputters. In addition, he said, the severity of the drop in county revenue may have been clouded by opponents who accuse the council of unchecked spending and of failing to live within its means.

He framed the issues surrounding Proposition 1 succinctly.

“The debate is,” Peterson said, “are we in fact spending wisely, or have we been doing foolish things.”

Proposition 1 will raise about $960,000 beginning in 2010, and will expire in six years unless renewed by voters. It will add $60 to the property tax bill of a $500,000 home, and the revenue will be earmarked exclusively for 11 programs and positions that were identified by the council as valuable but expendable.

Prop. 1 applies solely to the property tax levy that generates revenue for County Current, also known as the general fund, which pays for the bulk of the county’s day-to-day expenses, including payroll. Programs such as senior services, parks and WSU Extension activities have long received a large dose of supplemental funding the general fund. The Road Fund levy and Conservation Futures levy remain unchanged.

A week from today, the council will meet to put the finishing touches on a proposed budget for 2010 that is slated for a public hearing Nov. 30. Instead of a general fund totaling $13.4 million, the council must wrestle with a fund that totals $12.5 million and with making the spending cuts that are needed to get there. That burden will be eased by the passage of Prop. 1.

Programs proposed to be funded by Prop. 1, and amounts for 2010:

— Senior Services on San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez Islands: $211,000.

— Maintenance and operation of county parks: $200,000.

— Reducing the number of days the county is closed for business: $140,000.

— WSU Extension programs, including 4-H, Master Gardeners, and other volunteer and agricultural programs: $129,000.

— Immunization clinics and public health services on San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez islands: $112,000.

— Department of Emergency Management manager: $50,000.

— Deputy prosecuting attorney restored to a full-time position: $45,000.

— Sheriff’s Department correctional officer restored to a full-time position: $42,000.

— Maintenance of county buildings and grounds: $18,000.

— Islands’ Oil Spill Association emergency response equipment: $8,000.

— General fund support of the San Juan County Fair: $5,000.