PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County commissioners told state lawmakers that the county needs help with funding and with affordable housing.
They met Wednesday night with state Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles; Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim; and Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, urging the Legisltaive District 24 lawmakers to find ways to help Jefferson County.
Commissioner David Sullivan told them one of the top issues facing the county is affordable housing. With the failure of Proposition 1 — which would have imposed property taxes to fund affordable housing — officials are now looking for more ways to create housing.
“The market will take care of those with a lot of money, but it’s about taking care of the people with needs we just can’t fill right now,” he said. “We need [affordable housing] not just in Port Townsend, we need it throughout the county.”
Sullivan said there is a need for housing in every community in the county and that it’s not as easy as some think to encourage developments.
“People have the idea that by declaring a housing emergency we can circumvent land use laws and just change regulations, zoning and codes willy-nilly,” he said. “That said, we need a lot more flexibility … in what we can do.”
He said there need to be changes that make it easier to supply infrastructure.
“One of the things that came out of the Prop. 1 campaign was, raise people’s income,” said County Administrator Philip Morley. He said that’s impossible without being able to provide infrastructure and promote businesses and provide jobs.
With the Growth Management Act and the lack of revenue to the county, Jefferson County citizens are “condemned to progressive poverty,” Morley said. “We need help.”
Tharinger said there are bills being developed around affordable housing, one of which would use county bonding capacity backed by the state to provide housing.
Morley said lack of economic development would still be the issue.
“Debt is wonderful, but you have to repay debt,” Morley said. “Our capacity to do that and our citizens’ capacity to do that without economic development is very limited.”
Commissioners also pressed the lawmakers on ways to provide more funding to the county, which has struggled to fund county operations.
Commissioner Kate Dean told the lawmakers that the county’s voters have “tax fatigue,” making it difficult to raise more funds.
Each year counties are allowed to increase property taxes by 1 percent, an amount that hasn’t kept up with inflation.
“There was talk about lifting the 1 percent, but it didn’t happen,” Tharinger said. “With a 60-day session, it’s not going to happen this year.”
He called Washington the most regressive state in the union and said the state is not taxing the “economic robustness of what’s going on in this state.”
Commissioners asked the lawmakers to help with unfunded mandates. Sullivan said the state is “nickle-and-diming” counties with each of the unfunded mandates without providing new ways for counties to boost revenues.
He recommended the state provide money with each of the costs it forces upon counties.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].