PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County commissioners have approved a new one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax, which is expected to provide about $600,000 a year for affordable housing projects.
Although the ordinance approved unanimously Monday afternoon will go into effect Saturday, the tax won’t be collected until April 1.
The three county commissioners approved the new tax during the afternoon session of Monday’s meeting after they received more than a dozen written letters and listened to six verbal comments during the public hearing.
The new tax equates to $1 for every $1,000 spent.
The six verbal comments all expressed support of the tax, and while the written comments were not read aloud, the comments also primarily supported the tax with two opposed, said Philip Morley, county administrator.
Port Townsend retiree Julia Cochrane was one of the verbal callers.
While she lives on a fixed income and spends about $300 a month on taxable items, she supports the tax to assist with the housing crisis in the county.
“I support this totally, absolutely,” she said. “I think any piece of the puzzle that we can get in place will be excellent.
“I as a low-income senior will happily spend 30 cents to create a significant amount of money that will create housing.”
The state Legislature approved the new tax as a possible option for counties and cities.
The sales and use tax for affordable housing originally required voter approval, but under House Bill 1590, which was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee in March, the revenue source can be approved by a local legislative body with a simple majority vote, Morley said.
At least 60 percent of the revenue generated by the tax is required to go toward constructing affordable housing and facilities which provide housing services, constructing mental or behavioral health-related facilities, funding the operations and maintenance costs of new units of affordable housing and facilities where housing-related programs are provided or newly constructed evaluation and treatment centers, according to commission documents.
The services listed are for people living at or below 60 percent of the county median income who are either veterans, have a mental illness, are families with children who are homeless or at risk of being homeless, are an unaccompanied homeless youth or young adults, are persons with a disability or are domestic violence survivors, the documents said.
Through conversations with personnel from Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP), Bayside Housing, Dove House, Habitat for Humanity for East Jefferson County and Peninsula Housing Authority, a strategy has been formed to potentially create six to 10 affordable housing units annually, Morley said.
In addition to the estimated $600,000 that the new tax will bring in annually, it will also open the door for potential matching grants and other partner funding, said Kate Dean, district 1 commissioner.
“We know the need is there,” Dean said. “This little pot of funding will allow us to compete for some of that additional funding and be a better partner to the housing providers.
“I am gratified that this funding comes with the requirement for capital expenditures for putting it into infrastructure, and I’m concerned we haven’t done enough of that,” she continued.
“I feel strongly that we need to move forward with this and that it is a fairly minor hit for folks who are just getting by.”
The new tax and Monday’s discussion can be viewed at tinyurl.com/PDN-HousingTax.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected].