OPINION Port Orchard
quote of the week
“We simply can’t have people coming in and under-cutting the farmers. If we lose the farmers, we’re screwed.”
— Port Orchard Farmer’s Market Board Member Dave Osbourn, explaining why the group asked Helpline to raise its prices.
Friday, June 18, 2010 • Port Orchard Independent
IN OUR OPINION
Farmer’s Market vendors ask for level playing field
ou’d be hard-pressed to name a more universally admired and supported charitable agency in this community than the South Kitsap Helpline. Since its founding in 1980, the local food bank has fed countless low-income families, and we’ve hailed its latest enterprise — growing its own fresh produce in the former Port Orchard Nursery facility it purchased this spring — as an innovative way to supplement that mission. At the same time, it’s difficult to find fault with the commercial vendors doing business at the Port Orchard Farmer’s Market for pointing out that Helpline, which has operated a booth at the market only since April, is selling its merchandise for noticeably less than they do. Or can. As a nonprofit, Helpline clearly has fewer overhead expenses than its for-profit “competitors” in the market, and can thus pass on the savings to its customers. That’s good news for the customers and Helpline, but bad news for people doing nothing more than trying to earn an honest living by competing head to head with the food bank despite being forced to play by a different set of rules. It bears noting that the Farmer’s Market hasn’t given Helpline an ultimatum. At this point, the group has simply requested that Helpline raise its prices to be more in line with what the for-profit vendors are obligated to charge. In return for raising this point, the market’s manager says she has been flooded with complaints and threats — including death threats, which is despicable. The hope here is that an amicable solution can be found that can allow both Helpline and the Farmer’s Market to continue providing their valuable services to the South Kitsap community. In order for that to happen, however, it’s instructive to remember that neither party has a monopoly on virtue and that they can accomplish more by working together than either side could by going it alone.
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For once, county puts its agenda on the table A fortunate coincidence presents voters an opportunity to consider what positions on some local issues will be taken by the incumbent legislators and the contenders for their seats. The Kitsap County commissioners have begun considering the legislative proposals they intend to push during the next legislative session. Assuming the legislative candidates don’t avoid discussing the proposals being considered by the commissioners, voters could get a better idea of the candidates’ positions. And, of course, if the commissioners offer up ideas that many voters don’t favor, there is even a chance to influence what the county commissioners try to get the legislature to do in the next session. In the first draft of the county’s legislative objectives considered by the commissioners on Monday, the items related to revenues and annexations could have a significant impact, if enacted by the legislature. Once again, as they have in the past two legislative sessions, the commissioners will probably be pushing for additional taxing authority — specifically, the ability to impose taxes on utilities. City residents are already familiar with the taxes that are included in their utility bills, but counties don’t yet have the authority to impose them. One of the advantages of living outside a city is the absence of these utility taxes, assuming the level of service by county government is acceptable without this additional revenue source. Of course, the commissioners could be expected to assert that county tax revenue isn’t sufficient to maintain
BOB MEADOWS Independent Columnist acceptable levels of service without a new tax. It would be interesting to know whether any of the legislative candidates lean toward authorizing counties to impose taxes on utilities without voter approval. Such a new tax would have an impact on more than the county’s coffers and the taxpayers’ pocketbooks — it would influence another item on the commissioners’ legislative agenda, namely annexations by cities. If the taxes paid by county residents were similar to those paid by city residents, there might be less resistance from taxpayers to annexations. Unless cities annex residential areas in addition to commercial property, they can end up with significantly more revenue and few new residents to serve with that revenue. Given time to adjust city spending to use the new revenue after annexing commercial property, cities then often assert that annexing the residential parts of their urban growth areas is impractical. And, because of the higher taxes that come with living in a city, taxpayers in those residential areas are often not enthusiastic about being annexed by a city. It can be hard to get cities to attempt
annexations of residential areas when the people have the ability to force the question onto the ballot for a referendum. One solution would be to offer cities additional revenue when they annex residential areas. With their political clout, the counties of King, Pierce, and Snohomish have been able to push through a state law that gives their cities part of the sales tax revenue that would go to the state when they annex large residential areas. Our county commissioners would like to have this incentive extended to cities in Kitsap as well, but diverting more revenue from the state’s general fund probably requires more clout than we have. An alternative way of overcoming cities’ reluctance to attempt annexation when residents can reject it is simply to eliminate the right of referendum. This alternative was enacted in 2009, giving cities authority to annex without a referendum when they can reach agreement with the county and the fire district serving the area. Among our local legislators, only Rep. Jan Angel voted against this new annexation procedure. South Kitsap residents could hope the new procedure doesn’t apply to them, since the city of Port Orchard has been annexed into the fire district and has no fire department. It would be better to know for sure — and to know what the legislative candidates think about eliminating the right of referendum. Bob Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.
Write to us: Send letters to 2950 Mile Hill Dr., Port Orchard, WA 98366, or fax to (360) 876-4458, or e-mail to email@example.com. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Independent or its staff
Friday, June 18, 2010 • Port Orchard Independent
Privatization worked for one ferry system By MICHAEL ENNIS For the Independent
King County has operated the West Seattle Water Taxi across Elliott Bay. The ferry route connects Pier 55 on the downtown waterfront to Seacrest Park in West Seattle. The route has been seasonal, operating April through October. In 2007, the King County Council voted to create a ferry district and levied a special property tax increase on all county residents to expand its ferry operations. The higher property tax generates about $18 million per year and pays for the Vashon Island passenger-only ferry abandoned by the Michael Ennis state in 2006, and for year-round operation of the West Seattle route. Since 1997, King County has successfully contracted with Argosy Cruises, a private ferry company based in Seattle, to operate the West Seattle Water Taxi. In 2009, Argosy operated the route from April through October and carried a record 200,000 passenger trips, a 21 percent increase over the previous year. Under the public/private partnership with Argosy Cruises, the total cost for seven months of operations was
GUEST OPinion $808,000 in 2009, or about $115,000 per month. King County policymakers decided to terminate the partnership with Argosy Cruises and operate the West Seattle Ferry themselves. In April of this year, King County began operating the route independently and implemented year-round service. The decision was a costly one for King County property owners. In 2010, the total cost for nine months of operation is about $3.05 million per year, or about $339,000 per month. Labor costs alone amount to $1.20 million, or $133,000 per month, which is higher than the entire operating budget under the public/private model. Some of these higher costs are related to ramping up to a year-round operation and ferry officials estimate that in 2011, its first full year of business, operating costs will be about $3.33 million, or $278,000 per month. In 2011, labor costs are projected to rise to about $1.32 million per year. Another benefit of partnering with the private operator is that Argosy Cruises already has its own vessels. Under the county-run operation, officials must lease a boat for about $32,000 per month, or $384,000 per year, to serve the West Seattle route.
Including these lease expenses brings annual costs of a public operation to $3.34 million or $371,000 per month in 2010 and $3.71 million or $310,000 per month in 2011. Ferry officials also plan to purchase two multi-million-dollar vessels in the future, which taxpayers would also be on the hook for. These capital expenses would be unnecessary with a public/private arrangement because Argosy Cruises already has the vessel infrastructure in place. Annualizing costs shows Argosy Cruises was able to provide the same service for three times less money than a strictly public operation. It would cost about $18.6 million over the next 10 years to operate the West Seattle route under the public/private arrangement. Based on the current 2010 and 2011 budgets, it would cost about $48 million to operate the route under a strictly public model over the same time period. Allowing Argosy Cruises to operate the West Seattle Water Taxi would save county taxpayers nearly $30 million over the next ten years without sacrificing service. Argosy officials have proven over the last several years that such a public/private arrangement is successful and it is the most efficient model to manage the West Seattle route. Michael Ennis is director of the Center for Transportation at the Washington Policy Center.
State’s pension deficit a ticking time bomb By PAULINE CORNELIUS For the Independent
I would highly recommend that someone investigate the unfunded liability of Washington state’s $8 billion deficit in public pensions and start the dialogue to fix this mess that Olympia doesn’t seem capable of fixing. It is the media’s job, as the watchdogs and checks and balances, to keep the citizens informed as to what their government is and is not doing on our behalf. This problem of unfunded liability in pensions will bankrupt our state much like California is experiencing. It is my opinion that Washington should get out of the pension business entirely.
GUEST OPINION There is no reason why public workers should not be receiving Social Security benefits and the opportunity to invest in 401K’s just like the rest of us. We pay their wages and health benefits and are being asked to fork up their pension benefits also? The private sector did away with pensions for its employees because they saw the Ponzi scheme that would soon sink their companies. They switched to Social Security and 401Ks only. It’s high time our state and local governments did, too.
RE: “ Revenue-sharing comes with a hefty price tag” — June 11 Aren’t they the ones to blame now? I recall reading in this very paper where the city had it all figured out and that it would not impact the budget to annex the areas even with the soft landing. So, the city was like a person buying a shiny, new car. Standing in the showroom they have no doubts Taken from comments posted about paying for it. by readers to stories at www.portorchardindependent.com
online readers respond
There’s no reason why public employees should get to retire at 80 percent of their pay at age 55 (or early retire at age 52), when we can’t retire until 65 or 66 (or early retire at age 62). Who is the boss, them or us? Remember though that this will be a tough battle because 40 percent of the workforce now works in the public sector. We must act now while we still have a majority of 60 percent in the private sector to change things. We do not want to wait until the tipping point of 50-plus percent are in the public sector and Washington turns into Greece. Pauline Cornelius is an Olalla resident.
Once back at home with reality in front of them, it is a much different story. — from mikers on June 11
RE: “Farmer’s Market asks SK Helpline to raise its prices”
— June 11
Wow. It’s sad to see what should have been a simple conversation between two community organizations turn into this ugly, public display. After hearing and reading about this issue it seems pretty obvious to me that the original request from the Farmer’s Market was, at best,
Sorry, Coppola bashers, he isn’t getting off with a slap on the wrist Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola appeared in court last week and bargained the DUI charges he was facing down to Negligent Driving — a simple misdemeanor, prompting the expected complaints that he was somehow shown favoritism. As someone who sat in that courtroom for a full hour and a half after Coppola left and watched how the same judge handled something like 12 to 15 other DUI Taken from the cases, however, I’m staff blogs at here to tell you that’s a www.portorchard lot of bunk. independent.com For starters, neither the judge nor the prosecutor who accepted the diversion agreement knew Coppola from Adam. The only difference between his outcome and that of the others was that Coppola was proactive and, on his lawyer’s advice, completed the necessary requirements — including a substance assessment, an alcohol information school, a victim panel and a voluntary defensive driver course — by the time he showed up for his arraignment. The next step for the other offenders is a pre-trial hearing, during which most — if not all — will negotiate their sentences down just as Coppola did. It only looks like he got a better deal than they did because he started working to mitigate his sentence from the outset and they didn’t. I also dispute the assertion that pleading not-guilty amounts to Jeff Rhodes not taking responsibility for his actions. Appearances aside, the plea is simply a formality. Even judges discourage a guilty plea because it halts the proceedings right there, depriving the defendant of any chance to have the court consider such factors as it being his first offense. Lastly, don’t forget that the settlement is contingent on his continuing to meet certain terms for two full years. If he screws up, the original charge will be reinstated and the judge will impose the maximum sentence. Despite the burning desire of people who don’t like Lary Coppola anyway to see him crucified for this, there is simply no indication that his response was anything less than appropriate or that he got any more or less consideration than you or I would in similar circumstances. — From “Rhodes Less Traveled,” by Jeff Rhodes
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a misdirected attempt at leveling the playing field, and at worst, price fixing. In all honesty it seems to me that it leans more toward the former not the latter, but it’s all about perception. — from jdubya on June 12 I’m afraid I’ll lose my place to shop because, over time, these farmers, who have been doing business in Port Orchard, will give up. What will happen to the market when the only people selling plants are the Helpline people? Imagine another nonprofit coming to the market and selling lovely tomato plants for $1. What would the Helpline people think? — from kitsapconsumer on June 13