Republished from April, 2015.
In what was an amazing admission, Port Angeles’ Finance Officer Byron Olson recently told the public that the City had come to realize it had taxed it’s residents to the “limits” and that the City could not continue to fund services and programs.
Some of the listed options residents could consider supporting for cuts in funding include eliminating the domestic violence victim assistance program, cutting funding for health and human services, eliminating the City’s Olympic Peninsula Humane Society services agreement, cutting funding for the City’s broadband program, eliminating the City’s contribution to the Clallam Economic Development Council, and eliminating a patrol officer position.
The need to re-examine City finances was created most recently by Nippon Paper Industries decision to shut down one of it’s two paper making operations, resulting in over two dozen employees being laid off, and a reduction of $360,000 in utility taxes paid to the City. Nippon is the largest utility user in the city.
The December 1014 shut down has highlighted the reality that the City has exhausted it’s sources of revenue needed to fund services and programs residents expect from the tax money they pay. In stating the City had taxed it’s citizens to the “limit”, it acknowledged publicly what has been clear to many for many years.
The City has known that a large percentage of Port Angeles residents, roughly one third, cannot pay the utility rates, and require financial help. Despite this, the City has continued to raise rates, most recently last September, when the Council considered a 5 year plan of utility rate increases that would raise the annual costs for an average homeowner by $936, and $1,843 for an average commercial user. Residents complain, saying the increases would be too burdensome.
And, as the City was asking residents to support cuts to services, programs and patrol officers, workers were out putting the finishing touches on the multi-million dollar man-made beaches along the downtown water front. Across the very same street, other workers were beginning a $20 million project to install pumps to complete the City’s “most expensive project”, the $50 million dollar “CSO” project. At the same time, the City pays residents not to use this “most expensive” project!
The debt load incurred by the City, and passed onto residents has been increasing steadily over the last 10 or more years. Millions spent on a variety of projects that have failed to produce beneficial results. When public hearings were offered, residents spoke against these expenditures, but our local elected representatives ignored these pleas, and approved projects like HarborWorks, the Incubator, and funding millions for “economic development” that produced no new jobs.
It is worth noting that the City Manager and City Attorney for Port Angeles make more money than the Governors of 41 states in America! In this city of 19,000 people. Is managing the affairs of a small, remote city such as Port Angeles that much more complex and demanding than running any one of 41 states in America?
What was not said by Port Angeles Chief Financial Officer Olson is what the future holds for Port Angeles residents. If the people have been taxed to the limits, how are we going to pay for anything that comes up? How are we going to attract new residents, and new businesses to the area, when they find out the taxing structures are already so high?
How could the leadership of the area propose $100 million in new taxes for a new high school, when the City knew the residents were not able to pay more? What did they think was going to happen?
What is clear is that the current leadership has failed the citizens miserably. Multitudes of highly paid professions, all collecting paychecks, have allowed this situation to be created.