PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend City Council has approved on a first reading an amended version of an ordinance that would raise property taxes in 2018 to fund emergency medical services and Mountain View Commons.
The council decided not to levy the 1 percent increase for the general fund — which would go to the Port Townsend Library and to East Jefferson Fire-Rescue services within the city. A 1 percent increase is allowed by state law without a vote of the people.
However, the council will revisit the issues next week after other state and county property tax levies that were on the Nov. 7 ballot are decided.
“This year is a big year for property tax,” said Councilwoman Pamela Adams. “I’m leaning toward not voting for the 1 percent this year because I really think there is a greater burden on our property taxes this year really more than ever before.”
As originally proposed, the ordinance would have increased tax levies for the general levy by 1 percent — permitted by law without a vote of residents — which would pay for library and fire services from East Jefferson Fire-Rescue. It would also raise the emergency services levy by 4.9 percent and implement a voter-approved tax levy for Mountain View Commons capital improvements, which would be 0.10050 cents per $1,000 assessed value.
According to city officials, if passed, the total cost of all the levies would be $3.30 per $1,000 assessed value.
However, the council passed an amended version that canceled the 1 percent increase to the general fund, which would be banked and stored for next year, and passed on a first reading an ordinance that included only the EMS and Mountain View Commons levies.
Council members Adams, Robert Gray, Amy Howard and David Faber voted in favor of the amendment. Mayor Deborah Stinson opposed it. Councilwomen Catherine Robinson and Michelle Sandoval were not present at Monday’s meeting.
“Every year, we say we need to do this to keep up with the cost of living,” Gray said. “It also seems to me that in a good year, we’ll be better off to bank it. We have a lot more options if you have something in the bank.”
Gray was in favor of getting rid of some of the proposed property taxes, saying taxpayers had already stepped up to vote for a levy for the library and Mountain View repairs out of city’s general fund, as well as voting for an increase in sales tax to help the transit department. Gray also pointed out that taxpayers are are still paying for the new water treatment plant.
“I think we should look at what the residents have done for us in the past seven years,” Gray said. “If we can give them a slight break — and we can afford to do that this year — I think that’s something we should do.”
However, due to an increase in the tax base, the property taxes levies are expected to be lower than in previous years, according to City Manager David Timmons.
“The levy rate is actually going down since the evaluation change has gone up,” Timmons.
Timmons and Stinson also both pointed out that the city’s budget for 2018 was written expecting the 1 percent increase and regardless of the levy, the city will have to pay for East Jefferson Fire-Rescue services.
“We do have that 1 percent as a contractual obligation for East Jefferson Fire-Rescue,” Stinson said. “Even if we don’t bring it in, we still have to find a way to pay it.”
The same situation applies to the EMS levy, which is recapturing the original levy and adding the 1 percent, which makes it slightly more complicated, according to Timmons.
However, council members Gray, Faber and Adams were concerned that state and county property taxes on the November ballot could put a strain on residents.
“I’ve been having trouble sleeping thinking about property taxes, the biggest reason because they land on everyone irrespective of ability to pay,” Faber said.
“This is a big year for property taxes, the biggest one being the McCleary decision budget fix. That’s a scary number coming at people locally.”
Faber noted that a 1 percent increase is less than inflation.
“Our ability to pay for necessary services in the community is being whittled away by this ultimately pretty ridiculous limitation in the state law,” Faber said.
However, given the amount of potential property taxes potentially coming to residents, Faber said he was swayed by Pam and Bob’s arguments.
“I do agree with David that it is a regressive tax and it is unfortunate that it is what we have in our toolbox, but the rest of the toolbox is empty,” Howard said.
Howard voted with Faber, Gray and Adams. Only Stinson voted against the change.
“I’d prefer we leave it as is until we have what’s going on, then decide next week to take it out,” Stinson said.
The ordinance is scheduled to be back in front of the council next Monday, and a budget discussion also is planned for Monday.