PORT ANGELES — Clallam County Commissioner Randy Johnson told state Rep. Steve Tharinger the state needs to consider how its decisions affects counties and local government during the Port Angeles Business Association meeting Tuesday.
Recent decisions by the state Legislature will potentially cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars and left it without representation on a task force aiming to address water issues, Johnson told Tharinger, who was presenting a legislative update at the meeting.
Tharinger said there is more and more talk in Olympia about how the state can better support local governments, which are often hit with unfunded mandates by the state.
“I’m just trying to tell you the unintended consequences that seem to permeate down to the county,” Johnson told the Sequim Democrat and former Clallam County commissioner.
“You know this, as a matter of fact. I just wanted to help enlighten you about my perspective, which is certainly different than yours.”
Johnson told Tharinger that because of the state’s tax increase related to the McCleary fix, the county and junior taxing districts would miss out on $100,000 in funding from state trust lands.
Tharinger said he “should have known” that adjusting the levy rates would affect how much money jurisdictions receive for timber on state trust lands.
“What we did with McCleary, the case was about providing equity with education,” he said. “We lowered local levies.”
Levies are now capped at the lesser of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value or $2,500 per full-time equivalent student. After 2020 the maximum dollar per student portion increases with inflation.
Tharinger said he supported “suspending the suspension” of the levies.
Johnson also told Tharinger the county is at risk of losing upward of $500,000 annually due to a bill recently signed into law that prohibits courts from imposing fines on low-income defendants who are appointed public defenders.
The bill says courts “shall not order a defendant to pay costs if the defendant at the time of sentencing is indigent.”
Tharinger said there’s “no question” about unfunded mandates and said there are more people looking for ways to help fund local government. He suggested the state might need to allow other revenue streams for counties to help them keep up with unfunded mandates.
“There’s a strong group of local government people trying to figure out ways to do that,” Tharinger said. “Whether you need other instruments for revenue, whether we look at how the marijuana and liquor taxes are shared.”
He said counties are essentially a subset of the state, yet they have fewer revenue options than cities.
Currently under state law, counties are allowed to raise the amount of property taxes levied by 1 percent each year. Tharinger said raising that number, or allowing counties to raise that percent also could be a funding solution.
“There are a number of things we’re starting to think about, but it’s a challenge,” he said.
Johnson said he was surprised to learn that no one representing counties was on a task force that could address issues in the Dungeness water rule area.
County commissioners discussed steps forward on the Hirst fix and how to address water issues in the coming years during their meeting Monday.
Officials said there is potential for mitigation that would allow outdoor water use in the upland Dungeness area, but that counties need to be represented in the task force.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].