Ballot failure for 1-864 gives city pause for reflection

POULSBO — It’s not a success, it’s a wake up call.

Or so say entities about the recent failure of Tim Eyman’s Initiative 864 to make the November ballot. Dubbed the “25 percent property tax” initiative, the effort would have cut property taxes, excluding voter-approved levies and property taxes for education, statewide by one-quarter.

On the July 2 deadline, Eyman and representatives from his group turned in 156,000 signatures for I-864 — 42,000 shy of the 198,000 required to make the November ballot. But Eyman pledges that the issue will be back next year.

“Every time we do an initiative, we learn a lot,” Eyman said in a message sent to supporters July 3. “... As a result of everything we learned from this initiative and previous initiatives, we will strengthen next year’s proposal.”

It’s that announcement that has Poulsbo entities saying that I-864 not making the ballot is a relief, but also a call to action.

The City of Poulsbo was anticipating having to draft two budgets for 2005, one with current numbers and another reflecting a more than $268,000 hit from I-864. As council gets a first peek at budget priorities at its meeting tonight, the first step in the budget process, it will not have to deal with two drafts. But Finance Director Nanci Lien said the potential for a “Son of I-864” does have staff rethinking the process in general.

“It’s a wake up call,” she said. “These initiatives have been successful in limiting the state’s resources or ability to obtain these resources and I think they’re saying that the citizens want to be more involved in our processes.”

Lien gave the example that in Poulsbo’s budget timeline, public hearings are held in November at the very tail end of the work. She suggested that making sure citizens are more informed of budget issues and involved in the effort from the get-go in July could go a long way in helping.

“I think maybe something like restructuring the budget process or having some sort of public meeting in March or April with the citizens,” she commented.

Port of Poulsbo Manager Ed Erhardt said he feels recent initiatives in Washington have helped educate the public about the tax structure and the failure of I-864 to make the ballot showed the public’s willingness to really consider the complexities of budget issues.

“I’m hoping that taxpayers are looking at their tax structures and what (Eyman’s) past tax cuts have caused and reevaluating what they want to support,” Erhardt said. “I think people are really thinking about what’s really going on here. We would all like cuts but at what cost?”

The port stood to lose about $52,000 if I-864 as proposed had passed. That number represents about half of the public port’s entire capital projects budget for one year, which would likely have felt some of the hit.

“It would have put a hurting on me,” Erhardt admitted. “It wouldn’t have stopped everything but it probably would have rolled it back to a snail’s pace.”

Poulsbo Finance Department staff is currently reviewing ways to revamp the budget process and other ways to offer budget information to citizens. Lien said the efforts will not change this year’s budget process, which is already in motion, but she’s hoping to get council support for some changes to the 2006 budget cycle.

“I just think if people felt they had more information and more input, they’re not necessarily going to feel as angry or as frustrated by the process,” she said.

Erhardt said he feels the port does a good job of educating its taxpayers but said his staff continues to attend statewide conferences to discuss such issues with other port staffs. He said he didn’t foresee the threat of a similar tax-cutting attempt changing any of the port’s budget processes, especially since it doesn’t begin budgeting until August or September, well after initiatives have been solidified.

“To try and second-guess the voters for next year is unwise,” Erhardt said. “Right now, we’re in a very contentious election year, we’ve got troops all over the world and the economy is coming back and I don’t know where people are going to come out next year.”

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