My last letter to The Star editor helped define the reasons I am reviewing Coulee Dam town records … not a willy-nilly vendetta, as Mayor Snow has described it, but a real attempt to see how and why it is our cost for municipal services are among the highest in the state. Yes, there are some legitimate reasons just as there are for the other things we buy. Shortly after Snow took office he hired the town clerk that currently manages and administers the day-to-day operations for the town — since then the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has increased about 38 percent. As shocking as that is, it pales in comparison to the costs and charges of our Coulee Dam government under Mayor Snow. During this same time-frame, our water rates have increased 147 percent, our sewer rates 146 percent, and our electric rates are up about 78 percent. All outpacing the CPI by from twice to almost four times the standard rate!
Under Mayor Hartman, the town charged its utility customers a respectable Business and Occupation (B&O) tax of 2 percent for water, 2 percent for sewer, and 3 percent for electricity. By 1998 that had increased to 5 percent across the board for each utility. During Snow’s first few years as mayor, those rates were increased to 18 percent for water, 18 percent for sewer, and to the maximum allowed by law for electricity. Coulee Dam charges its utility customers this “hidden tax” at one of the highest rates in the state. Of those cities that charge themselves this tax (most don’t) the state average is about seven percent. So, under Snow, these optional (local choice) B&O taxes have increased by 260 percent! And what makes these taxes particularly heinous is that as they (Snow and the town council) increase our utility rates, an ever-increasing flow of revenue is generated for the General Fund for non-utility purposes — paying higher salaries, hiring unnecessary staff, magically transforming a beautiful and historically significant swimming pool into an unused volley ball court, and such!
The people of this state demanded more frugality and accountability when they passed tax limitation measures. A few agencies found a way around these citizen concerns for run-away government, and that was “self taxation.” What they can no longer get from us in property taxes, they pick up in these hidden Interfund Taxes (B&O taxes). You pay these taxes on every water, sewer and electricity charge, know it or not. The use of these tax funds is not subject to audit and there is no rational nexus for them except to pay for run-away government.
Oh, I almost forgot … and while remembering that the CPI has risen 38 percent since Snow took office, the salaries for each of the town’s three department heads has risen from $39,700 to over $62,750. That’s outpacing inflation by about 50 percent! Under previous administrations, salary increases were generally linked to the Consumer Price Index.
How do I know these things? I take an interest and request the records I need under the Public Records Act. The same legislation Quincy Snow would like to see abolished!
F. Gregory Wilder
(Coulee Dam High School class of 1962, yes, that’s 50 years ago!)