Municipalities come to taxpayers for investment

Posted 8/14/19

Voters are going to have to decide just how much they want to tax property owners to invest in community infrastructure projects in the coming year.

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Municipalities come to taxpayers for investment

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Voters are going to have to decide just how much they want to tax property owners to invest in community infrastructure projects in the coming year.

Voters can expect to see a proposition on the ballot this coming November for a levy to pay for Port of Port Townsend upgrades, such as fixing the failing Point Hudson jetty. But this levy, which could allow port commissioners to impose a tax of up to forty-five cents per thousand dollars of assessed property value, is just the first of several taxpayers could see in the coming year.

The Jefferson County YMCA has proposed a plan to the city and the county to build a new swimming pool at the Mountain View Commons.

Plus, city residents could face new property taxes to support schools.

And, depending on which fire district you live in, property taxes may rise to pay for new equipment and staffing costs for fire protection.

Here’s a round-up of what could be coming soon to Jefferson County property tax bills:

Parks District pool and recreation center

“We’re proposing a limited purpose Metropolitan Parks District,” said Jeff Randall, project coordinator for the YMCA. “We have made this recommendation to the city and the county.”

Under the state law (RCW 35.61.210), the parks district would be allowed to collect up to 75 cents per one thousand dollars of assessed property value, said Jeff Chapman, the county assessor.

Preliminary plans for the expansion at Mountain View Commons include recreation and exercise space, space for wellness programming, a renovated gymnasium, spaces for youth development, and a new competition-sized lap pool and separate therapy/recreation pool.

The target budget for the project is $24 million.

YMCA staff recommended setting the taxing boundary for the parks district at the same lines as the Port Townsend School District boundary, but excluding the Gardiner area, Randall said.

They also recommended setting a limit to the tax amount of $12 million, which would fund half the cost of the project.

Randall said voters could see the levy on the ballot as early as February, but it all depends on city and county officials, who have the authority to put it on the ballot, where YMCA officials do not.

“It’s still early days,” he said.

At the Jefferson County Fair, Randall and other YMCA staff showed off new artistic renderings of their vision of the Mountain View Commons space, which shows a spacious YMCA building with a six-lane competition-sized pool, a recreation pool and expansions to the parking lot.

“We had a tremendous response,” Randall said. “The interest in this is huge. Nearly everyone we spoke to said, ‘We need this for our kids.’”

These renderings, as well as staff, will also be at a booth at the All County Picnic on Aug. 18, Randall said. He hopes to continue educating the public about what the space could look like, while city and county officials debate creation of a parks district to help fund the project.

Other property levies

Meanwhile, tax payers have other levies and a possible increase in property taxes to consider. According to assessor Jeff Chapman, city residents could see an additional 95 cents per thousand dollars of assessed property value in property taxes next year.

“It is still early in the year for me to accurately project assessed values and levy rate totals for next year since we are still evaluating assessed values and have yet to add in the current year’s new construction,” he said. “I do project continued increases for assessed values from Quilcene to Port Townsend with the city around 8% and Port Ludlow around 6%.”

School levies

The state school levy is now a fixed-rate levy that in itself increased by .30/1000 for the 2020 collection, which will lead to an increase in taxes, even where values don’t change, Chapman said.

The added Port Townsend School District capital project levy will add around another .45/1000. The rest of the county will see a softer impact, Chapman said, since Fire District 3 did not try to replace their recession period maintenance and operations levy and the Chimacum School District has lost tax funding as a result of the McCleary settlement.

“Values are also not increasing as significantly,” he said. “The entire county will need to pay the additional .30/1000 for State schools though.”

Meanwhile, the Quilcene School District and the Brinnon School District will both need to renew their Educational Projects and Operations (EPO) voter-approved local levies next year in order to continue them after 2020, Chapman said. These levies typically run in February.

“The Quilcene School District also had their last Bond levy expire last year, and it is quite typical for a school district to run a new levy to follow up on a prior one,” he said. “I really don’t know exactly what they are considering since this is still in the early stages as far as I know.”

But altogether, he projects an increase not only in assessed values, but also in taxes.

“This is the picture when addressing the prospect of additional levies which may well be truly needed such as the Port Industrial Development District, the YMCA, the Brinnon Fire District fire equipment bond, and what the school districts like Quilcene are looking at doing,” he said.

Fire consolidation may mean increases

In February, eligible voters approved annexation of city residents into a junior taxing district which funds fire and emergency medical services.

Annexation provides greater taxpayer representation and transparency, city and fire officials have said.

When voters approved the measure in February, there was a possibility city residents would face increased property taxes, former city manager David Timmons said before the vote.

“First, there will be an increase that will benefit the fire district only,” he said. “This is a result of the two current taxing districts becoming one and the current tax rate of the district being applied to the city. This is an equalization adjustment that city residents will be assessed to be on par with (existing) district residents.”

A second potential cause of increased taxation would be the city’s existing property tax that supports fire and EMS services currently contracted to EJFR.

“The city pays for fire services to the district in two ways,” Timmons said. “A general property tax levy of $908,000 a year and a special purpose property tax levy. Following approval of the annexation, the special purpose levy will go away, but the city’s general property tax authority is retained.”

The city still retains the authority to collect the general property tax levy, Timmons said.

“The annexation will add around another .20/1000 to the City/Fire combined levies in the city even with the city banking their prior contract amount with East Jefferson Fire Rescue,” Chapman said

However, the city council would be penalized for collecting taxes via the general property tax for the first 12 months after annexation goes into effect, Timmons said.

“For the first year, none of it will be levied,” he said. “If any of it is levied, then there is a penalty payment for that same amount to the fire district.”

From 2021 through 2024, the council would have limited authority as provided for by policy, which requires any amount of the $908,000 be phased in at a rate not to exceed 33 percent per year, Timmons said. Further, it restricts funds for capital projects such as roads, housing infrastructure or parks.

However, the city council could vote not to assess any of the tax, Timmons said.

Port of Port Townsend Levy

The Port is facing millions of dollars in failing infrastructure, which prompted commissioners to pass a resolution that would inform county taxpayers it might levy a new tax to help pay for improvements to docks at Port Townsend Boat Haven and dredging as well as dock renovations at the marina in Quilcene, as well as larger projects such as the Point Hudson jetty.

A petition from county residents forced that levy to go to a vote of the public, so it will appear on the ballot in November. If it passes, commissioners will then decide how much to tax, but are limited to 45 cents per thousand dollars of assessed value. They could levy a tax every year for 20 years, but can not exceed taxing $15 million, according to port interim director Jim Pivarnik.

Comments

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Tom Thiersch

A YMCA levy covering the entire area of the PT School District? Are you freakin' kidding me???

That "$24 million" is a myth, just like the insanely overpriced new elementary school in PT. $40+ million for a 600-kid school (which will never be fully occupied), when only 10 years earlier that same project was estimated at $19 million, shows how - once they get their hands on public dollars - all projects like these will quickly exceed all reasonable costs.

There is no such thing as a "limited" Metropolitan Parks District -- any such claim would be just another lie. Once in place, an MPD can operate without any oversight, can set its levy rate to the maximum and can incur debt (bonds) without additional voter approval, and can just dissolve itself and leave its debts to the county and city -- all without any accountability to voters.

A $.75 per thousand MPD tax would add about $300 per year to the property taxes of the median-priced house in the county, and about $400 per year for the median-priced house in Port Townsend (per Realtor.com and ColdwellBanker.com)

Any added property tax levy would also impact existing taxing districts, potentially reducing their levy income because of "proration" -- ask the assessor. The aggregate limit for cities, counties and most special districts is $5.90 per $1,000 assessed value, and many areas are already very close to that limit.

This MPD is "for the kids" -- what kids? According to OSPI, there are 1,186 kids in the Port Townsend School District, and enrollment continues to decline.

Physical Education (PE) in the schools is the best way to provide physical activity "for the kids". But ask the school district how much actual PE the kids get and you'll find that it's almost non-existent. More than half of my property tax bill already goes to the school district.

Enough, already!

Wednesday, August 14
Dawn mohrbacher

I have to agree...enough already. Our schools here are so bad that my children go to school in Poulsbo. How's about we invest in schools verses a pool? I wish my children could go to school in town but we can not get the services my youngest needs in town and the two oldest don't want to go to a school where sex on the playground is a daily event.

Wednesday, August 14