Letters to the Editor

Letters from Sept. 29, 2007

Schools

Voters should

say no to

simple majority

School funding ... Millions of tax dollars are squandered on layers of bureaucracy. Why not fund schools and teachers before the educrats in Olympia? Let THEM take the “cuts” and give teachers the resources to teach our kids. 

Just say NO to R4204, the simple majority rule for school levies. Making property owners the fall-guy for Olympia’s shortcomings will not solve education’s funding problems, it will only embolden an arrogant legislature to further shirk their responsibility to provide “ample funding” for K-12 education as specified in Washington state’s Constitution.      

Students, teachers, para-professionals, secretaries, bus drivers, cooks, and custodians all deserve to live in a home of their own. But continued demands on property owners to provide an ever increasing portion of school budgets will diminish their capability to have their own home. This temporary funding is not sustainable, consistent, or equitable across the state.  

Do not fall for the “fairness” of allowing school levies to pass with only a simple majority. Ensure our kids’ future by demanding the legislature fully fund all the mandates they impose. Now THAT would be fair.

A concerned Kitsap County taxpayer,

Nancy Zorrozua

Several local citizens have expressed concerns about United Way of Kitsap County’s challenge grant for El Centro de la Familia, as some of El Centro’s clients are undocumented immigrants. Some have even said they would withhold support for United Way in protest.

As a former official with a local nonprofit that serves immigrants, I would like to offer some perspective on immigrant assistance and underscore why support for United Way is vital to the health of our community.

The immigrants served by my former agency are working hard to learn English in order to succeed in jobs and communicate with all those who affect their lives - their children’s teachers, health professionals, bankers, landlords, store clerks, government officials - in short, to become viable, contributing members of the Kitsap community. Volunteers provide hands-on assistance, and the staff coordinates with government agencies and other nonprofits - including El Centro de la Familia — in order to help clients meet their families’ needs.

Some who seek the agency’s help might be undocumented, but none are turned away for that reason. Many are preparing to obtain U.S. citizenship, which they cannot do without mastering the language and learning about American life. (Typically, citizenship candidates know more about our history and government than many Americans!)

El Centro de la Familia performs a similarly important role for the local Hispanic population, helping to strengthen families by providing needed medical assistance. I doubt that any undocumented immigrant has moved to Kitsap County simply because such services are readily available.

United Way plays a unique and important role in the provision of these and other invaluable services throughout the community. In addition to financial support, the agency provides materials, volunteer manpower, and assistance in coordinating services for a holistic network of support for our neighbors in need. United Way supports a wide range of services for families, children, and at-risk populations including battered women, people with disabilities and seniors. It is one of the few reliable avenues of assistance with administrative expenses, which any fundraising professional can attest is the most difficult to obtain. And, yes, United Way is vigilant in monitoring the use of its hard-earned funds.

Rather than disavowing support for United Way in protest, if you wish to help build a strong community but have reservations about possible support for certain immigrants, you can continue to help those in need through United Way by designating your pledge for a specific agency. It’s easy to do on your annual pledge form, or you can simply write the name of the organization on your check. More than 30 deserving agencies are available to you.

Please join me in supporting United Way of Kitsap County, in whatever manner you can. The health of our community is at stake.

Barbara Felver

Bremerton

Here we are once again in the midst of a county budget crisis. But is it really a crisis? Is the fiscal sky really falling? Not hardly.

Once again, the Commissioners find that they want to spend more than they can pull out of the taxpayer’s pockets. In short, the crisis is that the Commissioners don’t have all the money they want to spend. Because the standard county budget practice is to concentrate on the revenue side rather than the spending side, the periodic shortfalls are predictable. Sorry, poor planning and poor fiscal management do not constitute a crisis for taxpayers.

The two things we know so far about county budget “planning” is that Law and Justice consumes sixty percent of the general fund and that preserving services determined to be public favorites by survey is a priority. Since Law and Justice (read Public Safety) is the PRIMARY responsibility of county government, allocating most of the general fund to that task is very appropriate.

The real question is what is the other forty percent ($36 million) of the budget being spent on? The answer should be mandatory tasks that are required of county government. Determining those tasks is a function of reading the law and not public survey tea leaves. Over the past three years, while the Sheriff Department has expanded by seven positions, Community Development has grown by eleven and Facilities and Parks has expanded by seven. Public Safety is a mandated function of county government, Parks and Recreation is not. The growth in Community Development is certainly not justified by outcomes in that department. It is also interesting that the discussion centers on the General Funds and not other budget elements like the Roads Fund. Exactly what are we spending ALL of our tax dollars on?

To build a reasonable and sustainable budget, the Commissioners must first determine exactly what functions and tasks the county is required to perform. This process is normally referred to as “Zero Based” budgeting or, more recently, “priorities of government”. Because this bottom up process has immediate and direct impact on well established bureaucratic “rice bowls” it is commonly avoided at all cost. Hiring freezes, deferring procurement of essential assets, and “spreading the pain” formulas are not appropriate budget processes. It’s time for the Commissioners to bite the bullet and move to proper fiscal management.

By defining mandatory tasking, it follows that the assets needed to complete those tasks could also be defined. Staffing requirements could be reduced to specific and accurate “job descriptions” and an efficient and cost effective organizational structure could be determined. Duplication of effort within and between departments would be eliminated. Job descriptions would include the requisite technical skills and experience necessary to complete the duties assigned. The composite of job descriptions would also support an effective staff training program and merit recognition program. The end result would be a complete understanding of the correct but minimum staffing and other asset allocations needed to complete required tasks. Please note the absence of “visions statements” and “mission statements” in this process. Planning based on facts instead of dreams will lead to a much better end product.

One major objection to this elementary budgeting process is that it requires time and effort to establish the basic tasking parameters. As citizens, our response should be “That’s what we are paying you to do in the first place. Just do the job correctly”. A government that is not doing the things it was actually tasked to do in the most efficient manner possible is not meeting the responsibilities of the office and is wasting our individual energies and tax dollars. The public asked for a performance auditor to be hired before the 2004 “budget crisis”. Had that individual been hired and allowed to perform, we would not be dealing with this “crisis” now. Perhaps now would be a good time to establish the position and an effective performance monitoring program.

Finally, as a reminder to our Commissioners (and to all other taxing authorities), before you come looking to pluck a few more bucks out of our pockets, you better demonstrate to us that you are doing just the things you are required to do and working as frugally as possible.

Budget crisis? I don’t think so. Failure of basic budget process? Most certainly! Leadership problems? You bet!

Jack Hamilton

Silverdale

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