In our view: Cheers & Jeers

North Country voters protect their health; property tax rate reflects economic misery

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Cheers: To North Country EMS voters for resoundingly approving a three-year operating levy to continue ambulance service. Private companies can provide this service in metro areas, but in rural areas it must be subsidized. North Country voters understand this, which is why approximately three out of every four voters approved the replacement levy on Aug. 18. It funds two fully staffed ambulances serving people across 1,000 square miles.

Jeers: On the other hand, Jeers to the news that Clark County has the top property tax rate in the state. It’s not because our tax bills are much higher than everywhere else — we actually pay a property tax that totals about the same as other Washingtonians — but because of the depth of the recession here, and how the bad economic times continue to linger. As property values decline, the property tax rates shoot up, so that, for example, Vancouver Public Schools can collect the levy amount that voters approved. Stated another way, the property tax rate is sort of a misery index, reflecting the county’s 8.4 percent decrease in total assessed property value. That was the third-worst performance among Washington’s 39 counties. Relief may take years.

Cheers: To John Russell’s fishing trip. The 91-year-old Vancouver man has a heart condition and doesn’t get a fishing rod in his hands very often these days. But a group of volunteers including his hospice nurse, Denise Hood, her husband, Randy, and their friend, Matt Justis, made Russell’s dream of one more trip come true. On a recent afternoon he made his first fishing trip in three years, landing one small Columbia River sturgeon. But as any accomplished outdoorsman will tell you, it’s about the fishing, not the catching.

Jeers: To differing treatment for religious groups seeking to use state facilities. The General Administration Department’s policies are so nuanced that they are difficult to interpret, according to The Associated Press. Prayers, church picnics and advertising for fundraisers that benefit religious groups have been allowed on public property, but baptisms and religious speeches have not. For example, one Olympia church used a park to join in a worldwide prayer gathering; another church was denied the use of the park for a barbecue and baptism. Sometimes it’s difficult to draw the line separating church and state, but the state should try harder.

Cheers: To a new outdoor amphitheater taking shape at the Johnston Ridge Observatory just north of Mount St. Helens. The project has been 20 years in the making, but is finally under construction and, weather permitting, could host its first events this season. The theater will provide a quieter place for rangers to help the public interpret what they see in the volcano’s crater and blast zone and, for the first time, provide some seating. Anywhere from 100 to 150 people can be accommodated, depending on how closely they squeeze together on the benches. The amphitheater will also allow the observatory to host longer and more varied events, such as small concerts.

Jeers: To persistent unemployment and other obstacles facing military veterans. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., got an earful from more than 80 local veterans attending a recent “listening session” Vancouver. “The most urgent thing these veterans need is jobs,” said Curtis Loop, a retired Army major general. Clark College President Bob Knight, a retired Army officer, told the senator that veterans trying to further their education face too many hurdles. Pam Brokaw, who heads a program to assist women veterans’ transition to civilian life, said her clients need support connecting with peers and finding a support group. We need to increase our help for these heroes.