Good government requires active citizens

  • Thursday, December 8, 2016 9:57am
  • Opinion

“No new utility taxes!” That was the mantra of several businesses during a recent Enumclaw City Council meeting. The issue was what to do with another unfunded mandate from the state and federal governments about handling stormwater runoff. The cost would be about $400,000 per year.

I learned from my time on the City Council that when a whole group of people come to speak about an issue, there is usually an organizer behind the scenes stirring things up. Sometimes it is for a good cause, but sometimes there is an ulterior selfish motive.

Business leaders do not want to pay for the proposed stormwater utility. What they would rather do is to continue to take the money from the city’s general fund. That means, instead of getting streets repaved, something the voters recently approved, $400,000 per year would go to pay for dealing with rainwater instead.

That is nuts and goes against the best interests of the people who live in Enumclaw.

I get it about how higher taxes hurt retailers. It makes them less competitive. But this complaint sounds more like a form of welfare for the business class at the expense of average people.

The city administration did not come up with a new stormwater utility tax proposal just because they felt like it; they did so because government at higher levels forced it on them. There is not much the city or we can do about that problem in the short term, except to find a way to make sure the effects of the new regulatory burden are distributed as fairly and evenly as possible. One group of people should not be able to avoid taking their responsibility at the cost of the majority.

Councilwoman Kim Lauk noted during the council meeting, “To say we’re managing it (contaminated stormwater runoff), that’s kind of a joke – we’re avoiding it.”

Lauk is right. The playing field needs to be leveled, as Mayor Liz Reynolds noted. The more rainwater you create, the more you should pay. It just makes sense. Reynolds has pushed the council to create a stormwater utility, noting a 2015 letter from the Department of Ecology.

Also, because we are avoiding dealing with the issue, millions of gallons of contaminated rainwater are being dumped into the sewer system, putting a greater burden on that facility, causing it to wear out sooner than it would with a stormwater utility proactively covering the costs to fix the problem.

This stormwater utility debate reminds me of three key themes that I teach my Civics and Government class at Green River College.

No 1: “It’s all about power.” If the citizens are apathetic and let a special-interest group game the system to their own advantage, then we suffer, due to our inaction.

No. 2: “What makes good government?” In this case, the City Council needs to step up and deal with this problem fairly and not avoid the issue, which will only increase costs to us taxpayers down the road. The Council doesn’t just represent businesses; it represents all of us. That is good government.

No. 3: “It all gets down to rights and responsibilities.” Business people should be able to come before the City Council to voice their complaints. That is their right. The flip side is that we citizens and our elected officials should also require that those businesses live up to their responsibilities by doing what is good for all of us who live in the city. That is our responsibility.

Our government is only as good as we, the citizens, make it. Apathy and ignorance cost all of us money and create anger and resentment. When one group gets special treatment, the rest of us suffer. The price of good government is eternal vigilance and active citizen participation.

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