ALL GONE – These six signs, which were handmade by voters opposed to the proposed school levy, were stolen the day after they appeared on local roadsides.
Hand-lettered plywood signs set up by voters who are against the property tax levy proposed by La Conner Schools disappeared the day after they appeared. Somebody stole all six “Vote No” signs that were set out last Monday. Meanwhile, professionally created “Vote Yes La Conner Schools” signs and banners, mostly funded by the La Conner PTSA, have been on display and unmolested — though some were missing after the crazy March 13 windstorm. In Washington, stealing political signs is against the law. The theft of each sign is considered a separate misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail. It is clear the signs were stolen — with their message “Support tax equality Vote No! L.C. School” stenciled on plywood, they were too heavy to take flight in a wind storm. Though some of the signs were set out on property belonging to the Town of La Conner, including at the entrance to Pioneer Park, “Nobody from Public Works touched those signs,” said department foreman Barry Harper. The creators of the “No” signs have asked not to be identified. Channel Drive resident Linda Ryan, who was not directly involved in the “no” sign production but is one of the few people opposed to the levy who is willing to voice her views publicly, said a police report was filed. Skagit County Sheriff’s Sgt. Kelly Howell said, “We took a report on the 15th,” which was last Tuesday. The signs were on plywood and were about 4-by-4-feet square. So far, according to Howell, there are no suspects in the theft. Meanwhile, some people who are opposed to the levy are having their own signs professionally printed, Ryan said. They should begin appearing in a few days. The $995,000 school levy that voters are being asked to approve in an April 26 special election has become a flashpoint in a local tax revolt. School funding became the target because it is the only tax people have been able to have a say about since a federal court’s so-called Great Wolf Lodge decision created a huge tax disparity in La Conner. Most of the homes in Shelter Bay and other neighborhoods built on leased Swinomish Indian Tribal Community land were taken off the Skagit County property tax rolls, causing the funding burden to be shifted to a smaller group of property owners. Now most of the voters and about two-thirds of the students in the school district live on land that the district cannot tax. The majority of the registered voters will never see the tax bills they could vote to have imposed on their neighbors. Many of the La Conner area homeowners who are still on the county tax rolls saw their property tax bills go up more than 20 percent last year — causing a financial struggle for some. There are people still on the tax rolls who are in favor of the school levy because it is important to them to keep the local schools funded. And there are people living on land the district cannot tax who say they will vote “No” because they don’t want to force someone else to pay. Last month voters rejected two levies totaling nearly $1.5 million. While other districts have weathered failed levy votes, this was the first time La Conner voters turned down school taxes. School officials trimmed the levy request by $500,000 and put a measure back on the April 26 ballot, hoping voters would soften their stance if it costs less. But one of the “No” sign painters, who graduated from La Conner High School decades ago, said, “It’s not the money, and it’s not the schools, people support the school.” His opposition to the levy is based solely on the inequity of the taxing situation, which he says is only going to get worse as Swinomish and other tribal governments buy up more land and take it off the tax rolls. He wants to send a message to elected officials, who he feels are turning a deaf ear to the plight of local taxpayers. After all, he said, “I don’t have a ton of money to hire lawyers to fight this stuff.”