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March 2008

EDITORIAL

E-mail discussion re: Plan B

After a recent Skagit FACT meeting last month, the Director of Public Works for Burlington, saw fit to send to the individuals who attended the meeting an e-mail that I had sent to him last August 2007.  As stated below, he was right, I don’t mind sharing the contents of the e-mail as it does provide a good “point-counterpoint” exchange regarding the Plan B proposal that I put forth early last summer.  I felt that perhaps it would be worth sharing to the general public as well.  As always let me know your thoughts.

From: Chal Martin
Sent: Thursday, February 21, 2008 1:23 PM
To: Hanson, Jana; Jon Aarstad; Ed Brunz; Mike Harmon; Margaret Fleek; Larry Kunzler; Esco Bell; Mike Woodmansee; Long, Taylor; Kristen Whitener; James E. Voetberg; Jason Easton; Dick Irwin; Jeff M. Miller; Don Moe; Chuck Bennett; Scott Thomas; John Shultz; Rogerson, Kevin
Subject:  FW: Plan B Thoughts

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I don’t think Larry will mind sharing this discussion with you all, as a follow-up to our conversation this morning.  I think this email exchange that took place last summer is a good point/counterpoint about possible future revenue sources.  In my view, if we want any substantial activity to occur in less than 10 - 20 years, we need to generate local funding to pay at least 50% of the project(s) cost.  

Chal  

Chal A. Martin, P.E.

Public Works Director / City Engineer
City of Burlington
833 South Spruce Street
Burlington, WA   98233

(360) 755-9715 Office       (360) 755-0783 FAX
 


From: Martin, Chal
Sent: Wednesday, August 01, 2007 9:16 AM
To: 'Larry Kunzler'
Subject: RE: Plan B Thoughts

Larry,

I am telling you what I think, from my background, experience and perspective.  I sincerely appreciate you taking this idea, many parts of which I agree with, forward.  I think you are doing a real service to the public by doing so.  But I didn’t want to blindside you about my differing thoughts.   Good point about linking any property tax proposal to Baker storage. 

Sorry about your Mom.    Chal


From: Larry Kunzler
Sent: Wednesday, August 01, 2007 8:41 AM
To: Martin, Chal
Subject: RE: Plan B Thoughts

Chal,

Your message came in right before I left to go to my Mom’s funeral so I didn’t respond right away.  Just got back last night so I have had some time to think on a response, which was probably a real stroke of luck for me as my first reaction to your comments were nothing short of outrage and disappointment.  I think you are really missing the boat on this one as you were in the early discussions of the sales tax idea.

“One aspect of your plan that I disagree with is the “all or nothing” voted sales tax approach.  I think you have won me over on the sales tax idea, but from my perspective as the Burlington PW Director who believes it is good for the public as a whole to get a flood project in place which certifies protection for the urban areas and provides substantial protection for the rural areas as well, I am concerned that the ½ cent sales tax idea will not be approved.  I just don’t think it will.  It is too much.”

I think that if we give the voters a choice between a sales tax and a property tax that the sales tax will be overwhelmingly approved.  I base that belief on a recent public poll which showed that taxpayers hands down prefer sales taxes over property taxes.  Which by the way backs up the unofficial poll I took of 103 residents whereby the results were 102 in favor of a sales tax and 1 the property tax because she didn’t own any property.  As to your “too much” comment, hogwash.  If anything it is not enough. 

Furthermore, you may think this odd, but I think it would generate too much revenue, thereby letting the State and Fed governments off the hook and costing our own residents more than they should be paying. 

Odd??  Your comment is perhaps the most irresponsible thing I have ever heard a public staff member state.  This plays right into the hands of those who would oppose flood control.  Why in the hell should taxpayers from outside Skagit County be paying for the decades of land use abuse practiced so boldly here?  Shopping malls, hospitals, subdivisions, freeways, all with the knowledge that this is arguably “the most dangerous floodplain on the west coast”.  Local governments, especially Mt. Vernon and Burlington have done nothing more then trash the State Shoreline Management Act, the State Environmental Policy Act, and have made a mockery of the NFIP to the degree that it could well be argued that FEMA should kick Burlington out of the insurance program altogether.  Furthermore, evidently you did not see the slides I presented on the backlog of the projects the Corps already has in the pipeline.  We don’t have 40 years to wait on federal funding that is never going to show up.  Enough is enough.  No more feeding at the public trough. No more making bureaucrats mortgage payments or consultants rich.   Lets get it done and lets get it done now.

It therefore follows from my perspective that investing all the time and effort into what would most likely be a losing proposition, for a project that is essential for the long term health and economic well-being of Skagit County residents, is not the most responsible way to proceed.

With that type of defeatist attitude without weighing all the facts is in my opinion nothing short of irresponsible.  I realize that you have been a “public servant” your entire adult life but damn-it Chal even if you were remotely right about the voters turning down the proposal, something I obviously do not believe you are, then the people have spoken.  The people don’t work for the government employees, you work for the people and if the people once again turn down flood control as they did in 1979 (you really need to review 1979 Levee Improvement Project Historical Index, to get a better perspective of what happened in 1979)., then the people have spoken.  End of story.  Then it will be up to the individual jurisdictions i.e. Mt. Vernon and Burlington to provide their own flood control because they created the problem.

Consider “Plan B, modified” which would take most features of your proposal and combine it with additional revenue sources:  the modified plan might include a 7 cent property tax increase through the flood control zone district, which would generate a little more than $1 million per year and be managed by the county.  I believe this small property tax levy should be imposed by the Board of Commissioners without a general election vote, similar to the conservation futures levy.  Justification:  significant health and welfare issue.  Regarding sales tax, I think it is a good idea, but that we should forward the notion of a 1/10th of 1 percent increase – not 5/10ths.  This would generate I think about $2.5 million per year.  Add in contributions from Burlington’s and Mount Vernon’s stormwater utility and street funds – say about $250k per year per city.  That’s another $500,000.  Add in contributions from Dikes 12 and 17 mainly, with some from 1 and 3.  That is another $500,000.  Using this as the base capital funding amount, go after other state and federal funding sources.  Certainly, the State would be expected to be a big player.  Regarding Fed money, forget WRDA and go for Fed transportation funding and maybe the long-talked about environmental funding.  Tailor the individual component projects so that they will be good candidates for specific outside funding.  This will take some thought and effort.  So what I’ve outlined above would generate about $4.5 million per year of local funds, which would provide a significant lever for acquiring state and federal funds.  I think this would be an adequate level of local funding, if the underlying h&h gets corrected.  I think it is very important that the State and Feds pay their fair share of this thing, and my goal would be to get the State and Feds to pony up at least $3 million more per year.  Goal should be:  same as local contribution.  In my opinion. 

NO PROPERTY TAXES OF ANY KIND OR ANY NATURE UNLESS all of the money raised is used to buy storage behind the dams.  That has been my message and will continue to be my message.  It’s high time the people of Skagit County and its government officials got out of the welfare mentality that your position keeps us in.  For what it is worth I agree with you on the Transportation funding idea.  The WRDA isn’t going to get us anything.  The argument would clearly be made against your proposal by Burlington residents that they are already paying dike taxes, and now you want money from their property taxes, and the money they have spent on stormwater and utility funds are also going to flood projects?  They’re going to feel like they are paying three different taxes for the same thing.  Chal, you’re proposal is preposterous and relies on way too many “possibles” to make it believable to the voters.   With the sales tax we have one set of dedicated funding, of course if all the other entities you have mentioned would like to chip in as well then all the better.

And with regards to your “h&h” comment, I’ve already sent you the material on how that is a losing battle.  There will be minor corrections but in the end it is a fight we are simply not going to win.  And that statement is coming from the one man who knows even better than you how wrong the h&h is should mean something to you.  The only way you are going to get the h&h changed is by firing PIE (if we didn’t associate ourselves with them we might have gotten the job done through the agencies), getting congressional leadership on your side (we both know that would depend on leadership that isn’t there), or through the courts and the last one is so loaded against us it is why I have stated that we cannot win.

The immediate projects should be the Sedro-Woolley sewage treatment plant, the Anacortes Water Treatment Plant, the LaConner ring dike, and the most important, the widening of the three bridge corridor coupled with the emergency outlet for flows above 145,000 cfs, something that we would have only had to utilize once and possibly twice (1951 was very close) since 1921 if you believe in Stewarts which neither one of us do so it could possibly be back to 1900.  Even the most redneck of redneck farmers should understand the significance of how many times their farms would have or would be flooded and the importance of preserving not only ag land but the best ag land in the nation (See 9/3/25 Argus).  By widening and dumping you not only accomplish lowering your flood risk you also do away with the FEMA floodway designation for Burlington and Mt. Vernon as well as lowering the BFE figures.  Your Nookachamp project should be a dead deal as it is fraught with errors that only Harry Hosey could believe.

The above speaks to generating revenue.  But that’s just part of the equation.  It is also equally important (more important at this stage from my perspective) to work on generating savings – we are doing that right now based largely on your work to get the hydrology right and that effort could save at least $100 million.  This is key, I think, to any future basin-wide flood project.  So I think we are on point with that.  In my view, this effort to save money extends to getting the additional flood storage at Baker paid for by outside funding.  This is very important, in my estimation. 

See comments above re h&h.  The emergency release could save you even more money then the h&h.  My opinion is that there is never going to be “outside funding” for dam storage and if we want it we are going to have to pay for it.  We might be able to negotiate a 50/50 or even a 60/40 split with the BPA but we need to step up to the plate and make this happen.  Waiting in the welfare lines for big brother to come and save us in the mean green machine isn’t going to happen.

Chal, you and I have worked very hard on this issue.  Most of the time we have been on the same page, but on this issue I think you are dead wrong and I am prepared to fight you tooth and nail in the publics eye if I have to.  I have a great deal of faith in the people of Skagit County.  They voted down flood control in 1979 because it was mishandled by County government of which Mayor Norris was a large part.  Please read the articles I have referenced above.  I’ve told you and Jana many times, one of the most valuable things I bring to the table is the experience in the 1979 levee project.  While there were many others who could take credit for defeating the proposal, many of the ideas and strategy came from me.  I know what arguments worked against flood control and the same arguments could be made today even stronger by the fact that we have went from $6,000,000 in damages in the mid-sixties to 3 billion dollars in 2006 all due to local land use planning or better put, the lack thereof.  This is a local problem, created by local people, and should be solved by local people with local funding.  The sales tax will enable us to do that.  The property tax will kill flood control in this valley for another 27 years.  Plan B will work.  I didn’t just dream this up one night.  I put a lot of work into this and have thought this out before I went public with the Plan.  It surely doesn’t cost too much.  Everyone who plays pays.  There are way more pluses as the Plan stands now then minuses.  Your fear of the voters smacks of the backdoor welfare mentality that members of the bureaucracy so often subject the public to.   

As Mr. Willis said in 1922:

LETS DO IT OURSELVES!

And as I have said in 2007:

LETS DO IT NOW!!

PS.  Thanks for your comments.  I truly appreciate you taking the time to offer another path but as you can tell from my comments I couldn’t disagree with you more.  My next presentation is to the Sedro-Woolley city council on August 8th at 7 pm at the Community center.  Our meeting is the next day with Bud and company.  It will be interesting to gage the reaction of the Sedro-Woolley council to the presentation.  If I get beat up there then your arguments may hold some merit, however if I don’t and they sign off on taking this to the next level then I think you should re-think your position and let your City Council give you some direction on this. 

May your fields be ripe and budding and your rivers full and flooding (because its the only time people pay attention).

The Angry Citizen

 

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