By Polly Keary, Editor
This year, the city of Gold Bar is running a special levy to raise $113,000 in 2013 to help the city pay for legal expenses incurred during an ongoing dispute over public records.
The levy would add about $1 in property tax per $1,000 of assessed property value next year.
The levy, according to the city, would allow the city to pay for legal expenses without disrupting other services. Without it, according to statement in favor of the levy in the voter pamphlet, the city could face bankruptcy. The levy, it says, will give the city time to find a way to provide public records in a more cost effective way.
Council member Elizabeth LaZella supported the levy, saying that it is not a tax to pay for attorney’s fees, but rather to help the city continue to provide all city services.
“The city of Gold Bar has cut back on numerous services, cut personnel, and we have trimmed the best we can without impacting the working government of the city,” she said.
The levy would also not hit homeowners too hard, she went on, saying that the average homeowner would pay about $8.33 per month.
“This cost amounts to the cost a person would probably spend in a month for three cups or so of coffee, not a large amount of money in today’s economy,” she said.
LaZella said that when she explored the cost to citizens of a city bankruptcy, she became convinced that it was not a desirable outcome, estimating that water bills could top $100 per month and electricity could rise as much as 15 percent.
And, she went on, although times are tough, the city has been frugal and worked within its means.
“The city has not asked for any tax increases in many years and we have muddled along for many years, up and down, working through the lean times,” she said. “This time the costs have grown while the income has become less.”
But though there is no statement against the levy in the pamphlet, there are some residents who oppose the levy.
Among them is former councilman Chuck Lie, who was on the council for three years.
The legal expenses the city has incurred were not necessary, and the city could avoid more of them by simply releasing some public records that have until now been redacted or withheld for various legal reasons, he contended.
The city contends that those records, mostly emails, are exempt from the law requiring public records to be available to the public, as they are private communication unrelated to city business, or because they are protected legal communication.
“I never heard a single argument about how Gold Bar will be a better place if the disputed emails are kept locked up,” he said.
He said that Mayor Joe Beavers is pursuing a personal agenda against lead opponent Anne Block, and that he has vilified citizens who are opposed. He also called the legal fees a poor way to spend money that would be better spent strengthening the police force or improving the water system.
“If the money were to be used to rehire the missing deputy, I would vote for it,” he said. ”If the money were to be used to cover the deferred maintenance on the water system I would vote for it. But with Joe Beavers as mayor, the money would not be put to any constructive use that will benefit the average citizen. From what I have seen, Joe Beavers has created this crisis intentionally to support his personal crusade against a citizen he does not like.”
Lie also disputed the claim that water bills would rise unnecessarily if the city went bankrupt and the water system was handed over to the Snohomish County PUD.
“The reason the water bills would go up is to fund the upgrades that the city has deferred in an attempt to keep water bills low,” he said.
He contends that water rates are going to go up regardless of who manages the system.
“Are the cost for upgrades going down each year that we wait?” he said. “Are the costs of the emergency repairs going down with each year that we wait? Is Well 4 going to fix itself? The water bills can only go higher, regardless of the name of the operator.”
But LaZella appealed to citizens to call her or otherwise get in touch with any questions they have, saying, “I am not asking for a million dollars for the city, only the simple consideration of the citizens to understand the issues, not listen to gossip, and take into consideration the costs if the city goes bankrupt.”
Opponents of the levy have recently filed two PDC complaints against the city in regards to the excess levy.