For a dozen years, DuPont was the fastest-growing city in Pierce County. We enjoyed bountiful times, fueled by revenue from growth. Those revenue streams are done.
We are accustomed to high levels of public safety and services without paying for them. We have beautiful parks and a wonderful trail system. Our infrastructure is excellent. We enjoy the lowest tax burden in Pierce County and expect it. We refused to pass ballot initiatives to support our Fire Department (twice) and creation of a metro parks district. These were intended to match revenue sources with services.
Failure of these initiatives caused a budget imbalance with a growing percentage of the general fund directed towards public safety and parks. The current 50-cent emergency medical services levy covers a third of the expense of the medical-related calls our fire department makes.
Since late 2007, city leadership has reduced services and staffing to make up the imbalance. For 18 months we consumed reserves to meet the budget. Those reserves are nearly exhausted. In 2013 we will either raise revenues or significantly cut services.
These cuts will not be the gradual fraying of our community fabric we have seen in the past; it will be a wholesale ripping. The efficiencies have been taken. What will happen will be drastic cuts in parks and recreation, public works and public safety. We will see a rise of homeowner insurance rates and decrease in property values.
We currently have a fire insurance rating of 5 out of 10. Lakewood enjoys a 3. (Lower is better). Cuts will push us toward a rating of 9. We will pay a cost; will we have the services associated with it or just the penalty for failure to fund the services?
The opposition has three themes:
• Attack the decision to build the civic center.
• Raise taxes on businesses (make others pay for my services).
• Rely on other communities for our public safety services.
I will respond to each of these themes:
• The first theme is a historical debate that does nothing to address the situation. The civic center decision cannot be undone, and the debt payments will be made.
• Property tax impacts businesses and residents equitably. Businesses already pay for more of our civic capacity than they use. DuPont has a business and occupation tax as well as licensing fees and sales taxes. Our B&O tax places us in the minority in Washington and discourages business growth. Increasing the B&O will not cover the shortfall (the maximum increase would cover about 15 percent of the shortfall). New businesses paying property taxes are more beneficial than raising taxes on existing businesses.
• Mutual aid agreements with neighboring communities for public safety (fire, EMS and police) are based on mutual support, not charity. Our neighbors (including Joint Base Lewis-McChord) face their own budget constraints, and many have told us to stop calling for ambulance support because we offer nothing in return. We should not expect others to meet our public safety requirements.
The proposed levy is a modest increase in our property tax (an increase of just over 8 percent of the total property tax burden or an average of $26 per month per household). We will remain in the lower third of the county for tax burden. Passage will stabilize the economic situation and preserve existing services.
Passage allows us to pursue enhancement of our emergency services (looking to restore our ALS capacity), encourage business growth and look to the future of DuPont. Failure will have an immediate negative impact on public safety (increased call times, decreased capacity, limited police presence), quality of life and long-term economic vitality.
I have described a choice between a secure future and one much darker than any of us want. I strongly recommend a yes vote on DuPont’s Proposition 1.
Mike Courts is a member of the DuPont City Council.