By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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Citizens for Sequim Schools, a district booster group, asked the City Council at its meeting Jan. 14 to endorse the school’s proposals for a four-year $5.8 million-a-year operations levy and a $1.6 million one-year bus-replacement levy that are on the ballots that were mailed to registered voters last Wednesday.
Most of the council at that point expressed individual support for the measures, and plans were made to address the request at last Monday’s council meeting.
On Monday, Helga McGhee asked the council to think twice about supporting the proposed bus levy.
She questioned the wisdom of replacing 17 buses at once, asking whether that would leave the school district with a fleet of buses that will outlive their usefulness at the same time in the future.
“I don’t want to see this end up like the ferry system,” McGhee said.
Michael McAleer, president of Citizens for Sequim Schools, said the buses being replaced will no longer be receiving depreciation payments from the state.
Schools receive annual payments of $7,800 from the state for 13 years to help fund bus replacements.
New buses, McAleer said, would generate those funds that the district could then save for future bus buys, ensuring the fleet is in good condition “until we start sending kids to school in jet packs.”
Without discussion, the council voted unanimously in favor of a resolution in support of the levies.
The four-year levy, a replacement levy for one that expires this year, would have a projected tax rate of $1.61 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in 2014-2015 and $1.60 per $1,000 in 2016-2017.
The proposed transportation levy would be a one-time tax with an estimated rate of 44 cents per $1,000 assessed property value.
On a 6-0 vote, the council later passed a resolution asking the state Legislature to support a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would reverse the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling.
Councilman Erik Erichsen abstained from the vote, declaring the council had “wasted our time” by considering a matter not directly connected to city business.
“We’ve already spent tonight about an hour-and-a-half talking about this one issue,” Erichsen said.
“Next week, we’ll have something come before us about global warming or some other silly stuff.”
Prior to the vote on the resolution, the council split 4-3 on whether it should consider such a vote.
Council members Laura Dubois, Ted Miller, Candace Pratt and Genaveve Starr voted in favor. Erichsen, Mayor Ken Hays and Councilman Dennis Smith voted no.
Hays said he didn’t feel the city should be using its time and resources on something that is not city business.
Miller said that even so, the council should take a stand because “the decision in Citizens United was so outrageous.”
City Attorney Craig Ritchie said the city’s support of a resolution would be targeted to keep corporate money out of local elections.
Said Starr: “Our constituents are coming to us as the first level of government to help deal with this problem.”
Eight citizens asked the council to pass the resolution at Monday’s meeting, with another four emailing support.
A virtual council?
Ritchie also presented the council with a draft of a policy that would allow council members to attend meetings by telephone or video conference.
“I enthusiastically support this entire concept,” Miller said, adding that remote attendance by the council would keep that portion from being “disenfranchised” from city business.
Ritchie said the policy would allow the council to determine on a case-by-case basis if members or staff can attend digitally.
“It’s possible, the way this is written, that the entire council can attend remotely,” Ritchie said.
He noted the use of Skype or a speakerphone can be done now at no cost to the city.
Most of the council was supportive of the policy.
“With the current technology in place. . . it just makes a lot of sense,” Pratt said.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.