Wally Wonders Why No editor, no publisher, you get what you get

January 26, 2012

Just Say No to the City of Ferndale – Part 1

A recent Whatcom View article titled  Mayor says Ferndale tax increase needed to repair roads can be credited with offering sufficient irritation that I found the time to again write in this blog.

Recently the City of Ferndale has been emphasizing and funding extreme street makeovers like the Second Ave Extension, including the useless park next to a rail yard.  Now the Mayor says that funding is “woefully short” for basic road maintenance and repairs so the must ask the voters for a two-tenths of 1% sales tax increase.

Anyone who has driven on the hill in Ferndale knows that there are roads that need repairing.  That fact is not in doubt.  Even so, I can’t support this tax increase because a tax increase is not required to afford the repairs.   Rather, the City needs to get back to focusing already available funds on repair and scheduled maintenance of existing roads so that we get maximum life from them.  It was while attending a City Council meeting that I first heard mention of  a time in the last few years where funding for street repairs was cut.  The Mayor didn’t mention it in his letter, but it was briefly mentioned in another Herald Article.

Malpezzi said he voted against putting the increase request on the ballot because he didn’t believe the public would support it.

And he said the issue was one of priorities, noting that money that would have come from the solid waste tax to pay for street maintenance and repair has instead been shifted elsewhere, referring specifically to help pay for a new police station.

capture suspend maintenance fundingRight on both accounts!  I don’t think the public will support the increase and It looks like it could have been in 2009 that funding for road maintenance was  suspended, though I’m not a financial expert so I could be mistaken.   However, even an amateur review of Ferndale’s current budget and budgets for the last 4-5 years shows that overall revenue from property taxes, sales taxes and various utility taxes have steadily increased and are projected to keep steadily increasing.  Let me repeat that since that is not what you hear from the City officials or read in the news, overall revenue from property taxes, sales taxes and various utility taxes have steadily increased and are projected to keep steadily increasing.

What I also determined during my quick review,  was that what the City refers to as  a revenue shortfall in the road repair budget  is simply the negative effects of excessive spending, excessive borrowing, misguided priorities and what amounts to a financial account shell game where the council and mayor regularly “tap” funds from one account for use in another often unrelated account.  I was actually amazed at the the amount of  fund “tapping” going on in the City government.   Am I the only one who didn’t know that our Solid Waste Taxes have been systematically inflated, not for Solid Waste disposal, but for leveraging loans and/or state and federal grants for new streets or perhaps a police station. Don’t believe me?

SWT funding If you read the rest of this Request for Council Action don’t miss the list of annual 1% tax increases on the second page.  it’s quite a long list of increases that adds up to so much more revenue than this little two tenths of 1% business.

So really this boils down to the fact that the City of Ferndale does not need a tax increase to repair roads.  The have plenty of revenue to fund street repair without a sales tax increase.  Sadly, instead of taking care of business, they’ve gone the route of shuffling things around, using the money elsewhere, doing the extreme makeover thing and then coming back to the people with a sob story.  Call me cruel, but I say no to the tax increase the same way I say no to the hungry kid crying for more lunch money because he bought candy with his on the way to school.

Sorry, but No!

And I hope you make a better choice next time.

Coming up

Just Say No to the City of Ferndale – Part 2: How small towns like Ferndale contribute to the financial decline of our nation.

December 14, 2010

What is the Scariest thing about the Northwest Avenue Bike Lane Project?

carlaneWe all know that the City of Bellingham is considering doing away with parking in favor of bike lanes along portions of Northwest Avenue.  Whenever I hear about projects I think dollar signs and that is pretty scary since much of the money for these Bellingham projects comes from sources other than the Bellingham.  Sources like taxes you pay to the County, State and Federal government whether you live in Bellingham or not.

Yes, the same Federal Government that is running a deficit, is digging an even deeper hole funding do good projects in Bellingham and to be fair also in every other city, county, and state in our nation.    Anyone driven through the new roundabout in Blaine?  Well give it a whirl and as you’re going round and round about think about the $13.2 million that was added to the Federal Deficit.  Oh, and if you go round more than once think about the other 119 roundabouts round our state that the WSDOT is so full of pride about.  I’ve not investigated the cost and funding of every roundabout.  However to better orient yourself to the magnitude of the issue, consider that $13.2 million x 120 = $1.6 billion which is a lot of added deficit so that we can drive round in circles.

Nickel & Diming is a simple and time proven concept and it is hard at work growing our national debt.    Our nation’s debt isn’t from one big ticket item, it’s from millions of little projects.   In Bellingham they have adopted a Six Year Transportation Improvement Project which from the looks of it is just a list of many of those millions of little Nickel & Dime projects.

Here’s the funding resources for Bellingham’s Transportation Improvement Project:

    1. City Street: Public Works Street Fund comprised of motor vehicle gas tax and 42.5% of
      the total sales tax collected by the City of Bellingham.
    2. Real Estate Excise Tax (REET): Comprised of 1/2 of 1% of the total real estate revenue
      for a given year. REET funding is divided into first ¼ and second ¼ and can be used for limited types of transportation projects.
    3. Federal: Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit Authority, or U.S.
      Department of Transportation administered grant funding programs.
    4. Federal American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA): One-time federal
      economic stimulus funding provided for transportation projects.
    5. Federal Highway Bridge Program (HBP): Provides federal funds for structural repair
      or replacement. Project oversight at the State level by the Bridge Replacement Advisory Committee (BRAC).
    6. Federal Surface Transportation Program (STP): Provides federal funds to maintain
      and expand eligible arterial street systems.
    7. Federal Surface Transportation Program Enhancements (STP-E): Provides federal
      funds to enhance facilities for alternative transportation modes on eligible street systems.
    8. State: State administered grant funding programs or State educational institutions such as Western Washington University (WWU), Whatcom Community College (WCC), and Bellingham Technical College (BTC).
    9. WSDOT: Washington State Department of Transportation biennium budget – State
      Funding administered through WSDOT.
    10. Washington Transportation Improvement Board (TIB): State grant funding for
      arterials, sidewalks, and safety measures.
    11. Private & Other (Partnerships): Transportation Impact Fees, Whatcom County,
      Whatcom Transportation Authority, private business investment, private mitigation, etc.

    That’s eleven sources of funding.   I got bored reading the word “Federal” over and over, but I think I found 1 or 2 that were Bellinghamish sources.  The rest of the list shows the way that Bellingham transportation projects add more burden to our already broken state budget and pile on more and more to our nation’s deficit problem.  It is scary how many of these projects are out there in cities around our nation just waiting for city officials to pull the trigger on some matching federal funds and push local overspending right up to our nations suffering bottom line.

    As if this situation isn’t scary enough as it is repeated around our nation, it’s even scarier here in Bellingham because amongst the whoopla over whether or not to trade parking for bicycle lanes on Northwest Avenue, the Bellingham City Council is considering allowing Dan Pike’s personally appointed Transportation Commission the power to implement these changes in an unprecedented fashion.

    The City Council on Monday, Dec. 13, will consider approving a resolution that:

    – Asks staff to conduct a community meeting as soon as possible to discuss how to install the bike lanes.

    – Asks staff to install them along the Northwest Avenue-Elm Street-Dupont Street corridor as soon as possible.

    – Authorizes the advisory Transportation Commission to make decisions of this sort in the future, with the council having 45 days after the commission decision to reject or change it.

    Read more: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2010/12/13/1460400/bellingham-council-to-consider.html#ixzz189PMPsQ8

    Really?  They are going to allow an appointed Transportation Commission to implement programs like this without prior Council approval?  Why exactly is there a Bellingham City Council again?

    And there it was, the scariest thing about the Northwest Avenue Bike Lane Project is not the loss of parking, nor just the piling on of debt.  The scariest thing is that we could be stuck with the bill when Mayor Dan Pike’s  commission pulls the trigger on any of these Bellingham Projects. 

    Bellinghamsters are big on Buy Local, when are they going to start the Pay Local campaign?

    June 9, 2010

    Don’t Panic!

    Filed under: Local Issue — Tags: , , , , — wally @ 9:19 pm

    I know I read this in the paper also and then it was on the radio and on Facebook, and on KGMI’s website and on Facebook again

    Local governments in Whatcom County reacted with shock Tuesday, June 8, to an announcement from the Washington Department of Revenue that British Columbia residents will soon be entitled to an exemption from state and local sales taxes on merchandise.

    Read more: Bellingham Herald

    Local governments reacting with shock?  Pooey.   Relax, there is absolutely no reason to worry. 

    I’m not in shock and my feet are not elevated above my head.  I know that our state and much of local governments are both well equipped and well practiced at the art of taxing the bejesus out of anyone with a penny in their pocket.  After all, we live in the state with $30 tabs don’t we?   Let’s see, how many miles will they drive on our roads?  How many people are in their car?  Is their car a gas guzzler?  Impact fee for getting out of their car at Bellis Fair?  Additional impact fees for large people?  Our legislatures will do their magic and before we know it they’ll be getting more than ever from the Canadians and if they’re worth their salt they’ll manage to take more from us and blame it on the Canadians.   

    And the Herald article points out that “The Whatcom Transportation Authority might feel the most pain,”   so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a  0.2% tax on all Canadians who stop and look at what pretty buses they have running around the Transportation Benefit District ;).

    February 26, 2010


    WTA is coming to the taxpayers for more money.  In their words, they say they need the increase to “maintain the existing amount of bus service or expand service.” My belief is that WTA is overspending it’s public funding right now, so I’d certainly hate to see them expand their overspending.

    featureroutes WTA is not self supporting by a country mile and I see no indication that they are trying to move that direction.  Whether you use WTA or not, tax payers cover roughly 90% of WTA’s revenue, while actual riders only cover 10% for a service that they use.  For perspective, consider that the even the often maligned Lummi Island Ferry collects fares which cover half of their expenses.  WTA’s financing strategy is outrageously out of balance.

    Expanding WTA service will only cost taxpayers more money because the routes with the highest ridership and therefore, most effective use of taxpayers money are already covered.  Additional routes will have less ridership and therefore be the most heavily subsidized routes.  WTA should be favoring the most ridden routes if they truly wish to both serve the public and be good stewards of our taxpayer dollars.

    Our state and federal tax dollars also help prop up WTA. That’s right. While rider fares account for only about $2-$3 million per year towards operating expenses, we taxpayers are kicking in another $20 million or so for expenses and we are also paying another 5-6 million in state and federal taxes for capital projects like new buses and transit stations.

    WTA is not an essential service in the same respect as Fire, Police, Medical.  I’d say that for the elderly and disabled, WTA’s Para Transit is leaning that direction, but in general though, not having bus service poses no threat to our immediate well being and there is no 911 option to have a bus dispatched to your home.  Yes, as much as WTA and many of their supporters would like us to believe, there are other ways to get around.   Scooter, friends, family, taxi, biking, walking and let’s face it, your car.  For many in Whatcom County a car in the driveway is way more essential than a bus that passes a mile away from your home.

    snos WTA is not servicing the average person in Whatcom County.  Recently WTA conducted a survey which was to “measure the satisfaction of the general public and riders with services.” Yet the Herald article covering the survey failed to mention that half of the “general public” they surveyed live in Bellingham and almost half the riders of WTA were found to be WWU students.  If more money is to be sought for operating costs, WTA should look to those who are using their service.

    WTA doesn’t have any publically stated goal of reducing their financial burden on the average Whatcom resident and they have no track record.  So, in a time when we are all taking a critical look at how we are spending our limited resources, WTA is asking us to dig into our pockets and pull out a  33% increase for them.

    I am in no way opposed to WTA nor public transit systems in general, but my intention is to vote NO to this measure on April 27.

    link to WTA budgets

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