— from Paul Losleben —
To those who support the Orcas Island school bond issue, let me add my voice. To those who oppose the school bond issue, let me respectfully address concerns that have been expressed and share my reasons for voting for the levy and the bond issue.
As a resident of the island for nearly two decades now, I share your concerns about the future economic health of the island and especially the consequences for our growing senior population. I am very much aware of the difficulties that our working residents face because of the high cost of living on Orcas Island. This is a topic that I have joined with you in advocating for the working people of Orcas Island.
As a senior, living on a fixed income, having no children (or grandchildren) on the island, why would I vote for taxes to support upgrades to the school buildings and grounds? Isn’t what they have good enough? Didn’t the public recently reject funding for some of this work?
The bottom line is that we need young families on the island and good schools are one reason that young families choose to live here. There are those who feel that we are irrevocably on a path to become another Nantucket where the labor force commutes from the mainland. Personally, I hope that we never face that future. Good schools are a part of our history, they are an asset to us in recruiting and retaining working families and responsible planning for how to assure that we continue to have good schools is part of what we need to be doing in my opinion.
The key phrase here is “responsible planning.”
First, I have seen the results of their stewardship over the past couple of decades, especially over a time of tight budgets, and they have done a commendable job. Coupled with their responsible use of tax money, they have been joined by our local volunteers and donors to create innovative programs that give us a school that builds great new citizens. In a time when I hear of many schools eliminating “unnecessary” programs outside the core programs of reading, writing, mathematics, and science, our school has seen the value of music and sports in the shaping of young minds. Have you seen their garden? Have you enjoyed the locally grown food that is served in their cafeteria? Have you seen the results in the well-rounded kids, most of whom are on their way to successful lives? I say, “Good Job” and let’s see more.
So, my second reason for voting for the bond issue is that it appeals to my sense of serious, responsible planning for the long term.
The question is raised of whether or not we should raise property taxes to support this project. That is a serious question in this time of financial uncertainty, especially for seniors with limited budgets, and it deserves a serious answer. Even Orcas Island could not escape the national financial crisis that still lingers across this country. But, let’s not forget one of the reasons that many of us considered when choosing Orcas Island for our home. Washington State, San Juan County, and Orcas Island in particular offer one of the most favorable tax climates for seniors. We pay no state income tax. San Juan County has the lowest property tax rate in Washington State at $6.82 per $1,000 assessed value, well below the state average of $11.47. Counting all the local assessments, my tax rate is only $7.14, still considerably lower than the state average and even lower than the second lowest county, Wahkiakum at $8.90.
And, if the UPS deliveries are any indication, we chose to avoid paying a lot of sales tax. While no one likes to pay taxes, we really shouldn’t complain. We’ve got it pretty good. In fact, we even have very liberal property tax exclusions for seniors who cannot afford to pay property taxes. In fact, from a very selfish point of view, much of our property tax is paid by non-residents. Three years ago, I researched real estate ownership and found that over half of the properties on the island are owned by non-residents. There are a surprising number of limited liability corporations and foundations that are speculating on property here. Why shouldn’t we ask them to pay for the privilege?
My third reason for voting for the bond issue is that we have a pretty good deal here. The tax burden for the school bond and levy is one that I accept, knowing that I’m still much better off than I would be in most other communities.
For the frugal among us, the question is raised about incurring continuing debt. That is an equally serious question and one that I had to resolve to my own satisfaction. As a child of the Great Depression and a survivor of the Great Recession, I would have preferred that in a most perfect world that we should live within our budget rather than rely upon debt, but that is a fiscal policy that is rare in both government and private organizations. Rather, we finance capital projects with debt, whether that be our infrastructure or our home mortgages. In an environment where inflation and interest rates are low, it makes good sense to use debt to cover improvements when they are actually used in the future rather than forego those improvements that are otherwise not possible.
Interest rates are low and inflation, even at the current low rates, make borrowing an attractive option. We should strike while the economic situation is favorable, nail down bond rates, and use debt to our advantage. The school board assures me that they will make every effort to employ island tradesmen and I applaud them in this decision, even if it costs slightly more. We need to take into account the effect on the local economy rather than importing cheap labor. Our local tradesmen have a vested interest in doing the best job. This is a school for their kids. It is a good policy.
My fourth reason for voting for the bond issue is that moving forward now will not only reduce future costs, but help provide jobs for local tradesmen.
There is also a serious question of what will happen if the economy does not improve and we are faced with years of payments on the bond. What happens in the remote possibility that we might not have the tax revenue to cover the payments? This is why it is a bond and not simply a mortgage. A bond is backed by the state. Investors in the future of Orcas Island are assured that their investment is safe, so safe in fact, that it is likely that we will get interest rates that are below market rates, but still above what investors can get at the bank.
My fifth reason for voting for the bond issue is that it will attract local investors, including seniors, who are looking for a safe investment and will be attracted to an investment that helps the island as well. Why should we send our money to Wall Street when there are better ways to invest right here at home?
The bottom line is that this is a good use of our money, projects that are needed, and an investment that will benefit the Island in many ways for a long time. I, for one, plan to continue to follow progress at the school to hold the School Board members to their promises. It is too important to ignore this opportunity, now or in the future as the work proceeds.
This was my decision and my reasons for making the decision to vote for the bond issue. My reasons may or may not convince you, but I thank you for listening.