PORT TOWNSEND — City residents likely will see an additional $5 fee on their 2020 property tax statements if Port Townsend is successful in its petition to be included in the Jefferson Conservation District.
Port Townsend City Council members voted 5-2 last week, after debate, to direct Mayor Deborah Stinson to petition the State Conservation Commission for inclusion.
Council members David Faber and Bob Gray voted against the resolution on July 15 because of the new cost to property owners.
Faber wrestled with the decision the most, saying he personally supported it but didn’t feel it was right to impose a new tax on city residents.
“I think with the fire district [annexation], we set a precedent,” Faber said. “I feel it should be going to the public for a vote.”
Most residents would pay an additional $5 plus 10 cents per acre they own, with some exceptions for timber and forest land.
Senior citizens and low-income households would qualify for a waiver, interim City Manager Nora Mitchell said.
The assessments would occur with the property tax notifications next year, she said.
City residents have been enjoying the benefits of the Jefferson Conservation District even though they haven’t been paying for the services, said Al Cairns, conservation district manager.
Benefits include technical assistance and agricultural resources, including soil analysis and native plants, Cairns said.
During a previous presentation before the council, Cairns suggested the city either could join the conservation district or appropriate about $30,000 from its general fund through an interlocal agreement to continue services.
The conservation district would receive about the same amount in either case, he said.
Many residents benefit from the annual plant sale, Cairns said, but without extended services, they would have to check buyers’ identification to ensure they lived within the conservation district. That would make city residents ineligible, he said.
Council member Michelle Sandoval was a leading voice for the resolution, and she challenged Faber when it comes to public comment on tax issues.
“There is a point where we are elected to make certain decisions,” she said.
Faber answered by saying it was the change in relationship between the city and the conservation district and the resulting new property tax that concerned him.
Gray also supported the resolution in concept but didn’t believe the public had enough time to understand the new tax.
“We’re being convincing, but we’re not being convincing to the public,” Gray said. “It’s a tax issue, and I think we should delay it. Maybe in another week, vote for it. But we should give the people a chance to respond and to make their opinions known to us.
“We’re sitting here in the dark, literally, because we haven’t had a chance to vote.”
When Sandoval asked how many public comments would make him feel as though he could make a decision, Gray responded about the principle of government.
“It’s not the number, it’s that people have a chance to comment,” he said.
All seven council members said the conservation district provides strong benefits to city residents.
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].