Opinion

Muddled levy leaves unanswered questions

Getting voter approval of a property tax increase to pay for health and human services programs in Kitsap County might be easier if there were specific programs or projects that could be funded with the increased revenue.

Voters could then consider whether they wish to pay for the proposed programs or projects and later assess whether the additional spending accomplished its intended purpose.

The commissioners are considering proposing a temporary six-year levy lid lift which would be on this November’s ballot to fund health and human services programs and perhaps even capital projects.

Unfortunately the draft proposal appears to take a scattershot approach by identifying no particular ways in which the additional revenue would be spent.

The specific uses of the public funds collected by the tax increase would be identified later.

Voters would decide whether to make the additional funds available when they cast ballots in November and would know in general terms that the money would help veterans and their families, the homeless, people needing counseling for mental health reasons or drug abuse problems, etc.

Half the revenue would go into a special account to provide services to veterans and military personnel and to their families.

The other half would be put into another account to help other low-income people in the county.

Although veterans would be one of the groups that receive help, the special account is not the county’s Veterans Relief Fund that pays for the county’s Veterans Assistance Program.

The Veterans Relief Fund will need a revenue increase for 2012 to maintain its current level of service, but the draft proposal considered by the commissioners at their meeting on Monday didn’t indicate how this need would be met.

Absent a lid lift of some sort, the commissioners must either take funding from General Fund programs to increase revenue for the Veterans Relief Fund in 2012 or reduce the scope of the Veterans Assistance Program.

Since this is a specific program designed to provide financial assistance to indigent veterans, and since the need for increased revenue to maintain this program is known, the omission of its funding requirement from the proposal is hard to understand.

Putting funding from a lid lift into a separate, new account to serve veterans and military personnel may help most of the same people who would otherwise turn to the Veterans Assistance Program, but under what terms would the new program operate?

Would there still be a need, even after a voter-approved lid lift, to increase the revenue going into the Veterans Relief Fund by taking funding away from other programs?

It seems that any lid lift proposal ought to identify the Veterans Relief Fund as a recipient of some of the additional funding, whether there is to be another special account to pay for other veterans’ services or not.

In the context of the county’s total health and human services programs, the roughly $1.4 million lid lift would be more than a drop in the bucket, but not a lot more.

Total spending on health and human services programs administered by the county in 2010 was approximately $47 million — mainly funded by federal and state revenues.

Scattering another $1.4 million among those programs may be barely noticeable, so if there is to be no identification of specific programs or projects voters will be hard pressed to evaluate the effect of the added funding when asked in six years to renew the lid lift.

Back in 2005 and 2006, total spending on health and human services was roughly $35 million; so there has been a substantial increase in state and federal funding since then.

Both the state and federal governments are likely to reduce funding for health and human services in the near future, but no one knows to what degree.

Perhaps a scattershot approach with no specifics until later is the best we can do in the circumstances, but it isn’t likely to make voter approval of the lid lift easier to obtain.

Bob Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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