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Spendng federal dollars in town

Editorial –

All of a sudden the windfall hits home. Last night the La Conner Town Council and staff started a discussion over spending almost $265,000, half of which has already been deposited into the 2021 general fund. What to do with the money?

First, though, a recognition that a trillion dollars here and a trillion dollars there has trickled down from the other Washington. Like every municipality in this state, and probably across the nation, La Conner is benefitting from decisions the Biden administration and congressional Democrats made early this year, when they first passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and then the America Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

The country is in the second year of spending huge amounts of money, more than some editors can readily conceive. The national debt is so tremendously large that talk about reigning in the budget deficit is just that: hot air. The huge hole of the U.S. deficit is staggering. The decisions to spend and spend some more has saved the lives of individuals, businesses, institutions and governments across the country.

Now La Conner’s council has decisions to make, with a route drafted by town staff and outlined in a memorandum from Town Administrator Scott Thomas. Officials are in the first stages of developing the 2022 budget. Council and the mayor have work to do, but it is more than putting pencil to paper and involves more than the town’s elected and staff officials. They can start by asking – and listening – to the citizens they represent.

Actually, La Conner’s residents have decisions to make. How much work will La Conner’s adults undertake to first learn the specifics of the developing budget and then reach out to their council to share their analyses for spending an extra $132,456 dollars next year or in years to come? The town already banked $132,456. Do citizens know that? Whether council spends it or defers it into the future, citizens can either passively leave it to their local government to decide or can actively engage, first listening to the spending discussion and then offering their ideas. Either way the funds will be spent, but participating early may reduce surprises, disappointments and perhaps anger.

It is the community’s funds, after all. Tax monies leave here for Washington, D.C. – or Olympia, or Mount Vernon – and return to be spent on everything from bridges and roads to senior center programs. When few people pay attention to budget discussions and decisions, it is up to a few elected and staff officials to decide on priorities and spending.

The memorandum before council has good options, starting with spending $8,500 to relieve residents with utility bills that are at least two months past due. That shows awareness and compassion that the coronavirus pandemic has had real impact locally, on real people.

Council will be considering multi-million, multi-year infrastructure projects for the town’s water main that connects at SR 20 for Anacortes-provided water. The wastewater treatment plant behind the fire station will soon be 50 years old. In the 1970s that was by far the largest investment of federal funds ever to reach La Conner. When the plans for refurbishing and upgrading the plant are made and the budget set, the 2020s price tag will be as astronomical now as that first project was then.

What is a citizen to do? Calls and visits with councilmembers and the mayor are good ideas. Taking the initiative – no pitchforks or torches needed – will get the government’s attention and reduce disappointment that citizens were not updated or asked how to proceed. If you don’t ask you don’t get is the cliché. Asking to be involved early gets people in ahead of decisions and can save frustrations at council meetings later.

It is our government, for better or for worse. It is citizen action, at every level, that makes their government better.


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