Officials: Annexation would cost Port Townsend property owners more, but provide more

PORT TOWNSEND — If city residents approve annexation into the East Jefferson Fire District, they would pay more in property taxes — but they also would get more, according to City Manager David Timmons.

The present taxing structure has Port Townsend residents paying less for fire protection and emergency medical services than those in the district outside of city limits.

“City residents currently pay the equivalent of $1.05 per $1,000 of assessed value. A district resident pays $1.25. Basically it’s for the same level of service,” City Manager David Timmons said at the second of three town meetings that examine the details of the proposed annexation and get the public’s input on a range of related subjects.

“That equates to a $300,000 funding gap that benefits the city over the district,” he told nearly 50 people at Thursday’s town meeting.

Annexation would mean that a city property valued at $300,000 would be charged a minimum of a $60 increase per year at 20 cents per $1,000 assessed value. The maximum would be $237,000 or 79 cents, Timmons said.

“For a $300,000 property in the district, there will be no change.”

The Port Townsend City Council will discuss possibly placing a question of annexation on an upcoming ballot after the last of the three town meetings, Timmons said. The next and final meeting, which will offer about nine options, is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Fort Worden Commons.

Officials say that advantages of annexation include the city gaining representation on the fire district board, as well as consolidating the city and fire department budget processes, eliminating the risks associated with contracted services and freeing general levy money now devoted to an interlocal agreement between the city and the fire district that provides service in the city.

The move would ensure tax levy parity between the city and fire district taxpayers.

That would cost city residents more, but would prevent unpleasant surprises such as the city having to make up a disparity in funds from the general fund and cutting other services. That’s what happened a few years ago when a measure passed in the district but failed in the city. The difference was bridged with passage of a levy in 2011 but it caused cuts in the meantime, Timmons said.

If both city and district residents approve annexation, the present interlocal agreement would be dissolved and fire and emergency medical services would be governed by a special purpose district. Service levels would not be impacted.

If the measure is placed on an August or November ballot this year — and passes — a new governance structure of five commissioners — two from the city, two from the county and an at-large member —would immediately be in effect, but the taxing authority would not happen until 2020 or later.

“The way the law is written, the measure to annex has to be certified and completed by August 15, 2018 to go into effect for 2019. Any measure we try to put forward this year will not be timely to meet that deadline. The soonest the tax authority can go into effect would be 2020,” Timmons said.

“No one will see any changes in their taxes until 2020 as a result of a decision to annex,” he said.

An annexation vote could be this year or next, depending upon what the council decides.

Under the new structure, property taxes would be collected by and for the fire district. The city would no longer collect or make payments to the district.

“The key point is that the funds the city currently allocates through the special levy go away and the general levy portion of the $900,000 that’s allocated for the interlocal agreement stays in the city and comes back into the general fund,” Timmons said.

“The council may choose to re-allocate or not to allocate those dollars going forward,” he explained. “The council has to make that decision. That authority cannot be taken away.”

Thursday’s presentation focused on the financial and governmental structure of the suggested annexation of the city into East Jefferson Fire-Rescue (EJFR).

Fire Chief Jim Walkowski said almost 70 percent of EJFR revenue from the fire district comes from property taxes. For 2017, EJFR had a budget of $6.8 million, with 37 percent going toward operations.

Residents were reassured that if annexation does not happen, services will continue at the same level.

Timmons announced that each of the fire district town meetings will be broadcast on PTTV and that they are available on the city website, www.cityofpt.us. In addition, the website will include a survey using the SpeakUp voting system so the public can participate if they cannot attend the meetings in person. He asked for more community participation.

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2445 or [email protected]

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