More than a decade ago, the city of Port Townsend decided to combine its tax base with that of East Jefferson Fire Rescue.
But over the past 10 years, the tax bases have remained separate and it’s been a struggle to keep the books balanced.
The concept that two vital government institutions can combine forces to cover, financially and geographically, as much of the county as possible, and do so at the lowest possible cost to the taxpayers, seemed to have worked in neighboring cities.
But it turns out that a national financial crisis — the Great Recession — threw a wrench into things. At one point, the city found itself indebted to the fire department, and without the necessary cash it made restitution with an emergency vehicle worth about $300,000.
So how do we solve this plan gone awry?
The simple answer would be to merely revoke the tax that allowed the city to pay for fire services. But according to city officials, state tax law prevents us from separating the funds. We must either vote to keep the status quo — the city handles the funds and transfers them to the county (more administrative waste), or we start a new fund for the fire department and keep the city tax.
The city’s latest plan would tax its citizens just under $1 million a year, but those taxes would be abated for the first two years.
In the third year, the city council can start taking in about a third of the tax, scheduling it for capital improvements. That’ll increase by another third and then another, until 2024, when they can take the whole pot. If housing prices continue to rise, that’ll be over $1 million per year.
They don’t have to take the tax, but we couldn’t think of a time that a governing body hasn’t utilized a pot of money.
That’s not to say it’s a bad thing. The city of Port Townsend needs capital improvements.
Disagree? Take a stroll uptown and try to avoid a pothole. Our city is literally crumbling beneath our feet, and there’s something we can do about it.
A vote for the fire annexation not only gives financial power back to the fire department, it also gives the city the financial strength to fix its infrastructure.
You’ll be on the hook for roughly $175 a year if your home is valued at $330,000.
It’s unfortunate we’re in this situation, but it’s the situation we’re in.
If you want Port Townsend to be maintained, vote yes on the fire levy. If you want Port Townsend to be improved, vote yes on the fire levy.
Your elected council will decide how the funds are used, and they’re restricted to capital improvement projects. If you trust them — and you should, because you put them in office.
If you don’t want to pay an extra $175 a year in taxes, vote no — and then take a bucket of gravel and tar uptown and start filling those potholes for us.