Weathering the storm on mergers, taxes

There was a time when talking about the weather was safer than discussing politics, but the idea that man-made global warming would force us to change our way of life made both touchy topics — and both political.

Political discussions can develop into heated arguments because of the tendency for taxes to rise, and conversations about climate change can get hot because of the asserted need to do something at whatever cost.

When people in South Kitsap are suffering through freezing temperatures rather than our typically milder winter weather, it is small consolation that someone somewhere is enjoying milder temperatures.

Having an average temperature that may tend to be a little higher doesn’t seem like such a bad idea, man-made or not, but be careful where you say so.

While it was once accepted that everyone can talk about the weather but no one can do anything about it, there are now folks who think we can do something — and not all understand the effect of their prescriptions for change.

Expressing skepticism about the claimed dangers of man-made climate change can earn you a reputation as an anti-science throwback, so it may be safer to pick some other political topic for discussion.

Besides, there is good reason for believing we can affect political decisions more than we can affect the weather. We can elect our leaders and talk to them.

Among other possibilities, two topics deserve voters’ attention during the coming months.

The consolidation of fire protection services in South Kitsap, Central Kitsap and Bremerton into a regional authority might be unlikely, but the possibility of a merger is still under discussion.

At some point, Bremerton may choose which of the two fire districts the city would like to merge with.

If the proposal goes forward under the process by which the city is annexed into one of the fire districts, the voters in the city and the fire district get to approve or reject it.

After a merger, the taxes paid to the bigger district by city residents would likely be lower than taxes paid by residents of the former fire district, so voters in the fire district have to wonder how they would benefit from shifting part of the city’s cost to their own tax bills.

If there’s a proportionate benefit from better service, maybe it would make sense to let the city residents pay less than they now do for their fire department.

Looking at it from the viewpoint of city residents, being annexed into the fire district would result in a higher total tax bill despite shifting part of their burden to people living outside the city.

The city would still be collecting its property tax from them, but would no longer be using it to pay for a fire department — a good outcome, if residents want to give the city government what amounts to a revenue increase.

Another topic that may arise is the proposal to change state law and allow counties to tax utilities in much the same way as cities now do.

The proposal died in the Legislature this year, but next year it might not.

Kitsap County isn’t the only one with budget problems stemming from the recession’s effect on revenue, so a new local tax can be offered as a solution.

Besides, it’s hard to persuade people to agree to being annexed into a city when they know their utility bills will go up as a result of the city’s tax.

If both county and city residents pay taxes on their utility bills, one obstacle to annexations would be gone — which might suit you, if you want to be a city resident.

Since city utility taxes are subject to referendum, it would be nice to see any new county utility tax treated the same way — but it wasn’t in the bill that died this year.

It’s not easy to gather signatures to force a referendum, but if the idea is to put counties and cities on the same footing, county voters ought to have this option.

So, if talking about the weather gets dicey, there are two possibly safer topics you can turn to.

Bob Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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