Survey results are in. You said no. Doesn’t matter.
When then-Lakewood City Manager Andrew Neiditz (TNT, November 24, 2012) proposed a tax increase on Lakewood’s residents – specifically for electricity and gas utilities that would have generated an additional $350,000 annually to help balance the 2013-14 budget – Lakewood’s Mayor at the time, Doug Richardson, said “people have to heat their homes and cook their food. Given the current economic times, we didn’t think it was wise to increase that tax.”
That being said, there was another reason noted in that article as to why council members decided to forego a tax increase: “They don’t want to aggravate Lakewood voters before asking them next year to raise property taxes to pay for road work and street maintenance.”
“Next year” would have been last year, as in 2013.
But that was then and this is now.
Now, this time, the council – with a new city manager – is pitching payment for potholes and pavement once again.
To help the reader understand how far downhill along the long-and-winding, potholed-and-rutted roads of Lakewood we’ve come, a brief history in which an attempt will be made as much as possible to straighten out what’s become a rather twisted, not to mention taxing, path.
November 24, 2012 – No new taxes, as above.
Although if there are new taxes proposed, you’ll get to vote – as below.
January 22, 2013 – “Council consensus to send taxing issues to the voters” (City Council Agenda Packet for Jan.22, 2013, p.36).
July 9, 2013 – the TNT reported that “the Lakewood City Council continues to spin its wheels over asking voters to approve a fee or tax for street maintenance.”
August 7, 2013 – deadline, missed by Lakewood, by which to put a measure on the November General election ballot.
September, 2013 – Survey (costing taxpayers an estimated $20,000) to determine how you like your parks and whether you would vote in favor of increased taxes or fees for purposes of fixing potholes and overlaying pavement – although the survey was not be used for that purpose. In the City Council agenda packet for August 26, 2013 the very last line of the very last page (44 pages in all) contained a warning to the Council from Matt Kaser, Acting City Attorney:
“Surveys which could be viewed as being ‘used for the purpose of appealing, directly or indirectly, for votes or for financial or other support or opposition in any election campaign,’ should be avoided.”
“Surveys,” concluded Kaser, “fall into a suspect classification.”
Kaser was providing the council-requested feedback on deadlines for placing a measure on the ballot for the following February 11, 2014 (which special election didn’t happen because Lakewood missed the cutoff date, fortunately, as it turns out since the Feb.11thdate would have meant a cost to taxpayers nearly five times the amount had the election been held in November) with the measure voted on very likely to be an increase in taxes to pay for street improvements, the measure’s potential for success evidently to be measured by a survey.
Despite the warning not to conduct a survey “for the purpose of appealing, directly or indirectly, for votes or for financial support,” the City nevertheless conducted its survey with some of its questions specifically – some might say ‘directly’ – addressed to the very matter it would appear Kaser had warned about (click here for the City of Lakewood website then type “survey” in the search box and then click again on “Lakewood, Washington 2013 Parks & Recreation and Streets Survey”).
“Survey respondents were asked to rate three city methods to pay for street maintenance – some of which would require voter approval.”
Results of the survey as to whether you would vote favorably for the following to pay for street maintenance:
Property tax increase: No.
Sales tax: No.
License tab fee: No.
In fact, according to the survey results, “survey respondents were not supportive of any of the financing measures with predominant majorities opposing all options.”
Not even if you knew, as the push-poll-in-appearance survey stated by way of preliminary fact:
That “pavements are similar to other physical assets, it costs less to perform preventative maintenance than to allow the road to fail and then replace it. At a replacement value of about $135 million the city’s paved roadways are its largest asset. Current funding has street maintenance at a $4 million per year shortfall”?
And still the survey persisted.
What about “what amount they would be willing to pay on an annual basis if a property tax levy or sales tax or license tab fee were put on the ballot to exclusively finance street maintenance”?
Again, according to the survey’s analysis of the results, “survey respondents, while not favoring tax levy, sales tax, or license tab fee proposals, may be nonetheless be open to such options if the dollar amount were qualified along with the proposed roadway projects.”
The city’s interpretation?
May 24, 2014 – “Lakewood’s City Manager John Caulfield is recommending a $20 car tab renewal fee in part to help pay for $9.2 million in general maintenance road work such as crack sealing, traffic signal upkeep and street overlays.”
Without the promised opportunity to vote.
Because you already – in the survey – voted no.
The survey that wasn’t supposed to ask you how you would vote.
Because “the council has the authority as the transportation board to authorize the $20 increase without a public vote. It could raise it up to $100, but anything above $20 requires a vote of the people.”