Kremen eyes first levy rate increase in 11 years
Whatcom County Executive Pete Kremen, finishing his third four-year term in office, cited several accomplishments and some issues that will need more attention in the years to come should he be retained by county voters this fall.
“I filed [for re-election] on Monday,” said Kremen, 55, meaning June 4, the first day he could. He added that he really does believe that he sees the job as public service, that “as long as people aren’t abusive then it’s my job to talk to them, to give them a hearing. I’ve felt that way ever since my first public job in the state legislature 25 years ago.”
One of the key points Kremen made near the end of his annual state of the county report has to do with fiscal discipline. The county’s property tax levy, except for new construction, has not been raised since Kremen took office in 1996, and the report said that “One thing that will not change [is] our fiscal discipline.”
“That doesn’t mean people’s taxes haven’t gone up,” he said, “but that the part of county property taxes that goes to the county, aside from new construction, has not gone up for the last 11 years.”
His assistant, Dewey Deshler, said later that property tax provides about one-third of general fund revenues, and that while one’s taxes will vary as the value of the property itself varies – if a new building is built on it, for example – “almost uniquely in Washington state, this county has not asked for any increases in its levy in the last 11 years, and if all the taxing districts did this then your taxes would not go up, though they still could vary from year to year.”
Having said that, it may be time to take another look at the levy rate, Kremen admitted, in the face of so many vacancies in both public works and planning jobs at the county level.
“It’s not just here,” he said, “everyone’s losing their planning and public works people to the private sector, and qualified people are getting harder to find. It may be that we need to look at the compensation we’re offering.”
Kremen’s report began with reference to Whatcom County’s quality of life and the county’s efforts at maintaining it in the face of continuing growth, working on such things as maintaining open spaces in partnership with agencies like the Whatcom Land Trust, and developing storm water plans for Lake Whatcom and Birch Bay.
He added in a later interview that the county is “actively pursuing [developer] impact fees for parks and law enforcement, and we’re also working with the schools and with emergency response agencies collaboratively to provide the funding needed to provide essential services as growth continues.”
Kremen’s report also listed ways in which he’s working toward Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for the Whatcom County Courthouse.
LEED is a national benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green (i.e. environmentally friendly) buildings put out by the United States Green Building Council, which according to their website has 9,000 agencies, companies and contractors as members in 75 chapters nationwide.
Kremen said that the county is now purchasing 100 percent renewable electricity for county operations “that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent,” his report states, adding that other conservation programs have reduced the county’s electricity and natural gas bills by $90,000 per year.
In the future he said that another $60,000 savings in energy costs is within reach, part of which will be due to a recently signed executive order to reduce paper use by 20 percent county-wide.
Kremen also announced a pilot project for retrofitting two or more of the county’s fleet of 14 hybrids as plug-in electric cars, increasing their mileage from 42 to as much as 100 miles per gallon, plus using bio-diesel as often as possible in county vehicles.
incentives include fast-tracking projects registered
as LEED-compliant in the Planning and Development Services
The other major emphasis of Kremen’s report had to do with law enforcement, citing how “the opening of the interim jail and work center allowed long time booking restrictions to be lifted.” He also said that on any given day the county is housing about 450 offenders, up from 300, but “those extra 150 beds do have a price tag of over $3.25 million.”
Kremen also cited the community policing concept that has placed two new deputies in Birch Bay and Sudden Valley/Glenhaven along with on-going programs in Kendall and Point Roberts, and the opening of the Whatcom County Behavioral Health Triage Center, which “promotes our belief in offering treatment for individuals with behavioral health issues rather than jailing them.”