Petition on Port of Port Townsend levy certified

Auditor’s office approves signatures; port might rescind action

PORT TOWNSEND — A petition to send a property tax measure to voters was certified Monday by the Jefferson County Auditor’s office, and it may go to the November ballot even if the Port of Port Townsend rescinds a resolution this week.

The petition, circulated by the Committee for Port Accountability, satisfied the threshold of at least 1,643 valid signatures, county Elections Coordinator Betty Johnson said.

The required number was 8 percent of the 20,539 voters who cast ballots in the 2016 general election, which had the last state governor’s race, Johnson said.

The petition aims to bring a 20-year port levy to voters countywide. The three port commissioners passed a resolution in March that would allow them to collect a second multi-year levy to benefit areas within the port’s industrial development district.

David Neuenschwander of Quilcene led the petition effort because he thinks voters should decide.

“I’m pleased. It was a lot of hard work,” Neuenschwander said. “A lot of people volunteered, and we collected more than enough signatures to satisfy the requirement.”

The committee turned in 275 pages with about 2,330 signatures that needed to be verified, Johnson said.

Some were initially held back because an address on the petition included such information as a post office box that did not match the physical address of the registered voter, Johnson said. But they were only held for procedural purposes and allowed to count after county Prosecuting Attorney James Kennedy approved the process, she said.

Port commissioners will gather at 1 p.m. Wednesday for a business meeting at 333 Benedict St. Among the agenda items is a resolution to rescind the March 27 decision that allowed them the ability to seek a second multi-year levy.

Commission Chair Bill Putney said last week the March resolution could allow the port to seek up to a 20-year levy with a maximum annual rate of $0.45 per $1,000 of assessed property value. There would be a cap of $2.70 per $1,000 of valuation for the life of the levy.

Contrary to what commissioners originally believed, Putney said Monday that the petition-inspired referendum will go to the November ballot even if they choose to rescind the March resolution.

“The county says that it’s the way they read the law, that the petition has been validated, and it’s going to the [ballot],” Putney said. “That brings up the question of, if we decide not to go forward with the issue, does that mean we still have to pay the better part of $10,000 to get it on the ballot?”

Putney said that question has yet to be answered.

Neuenschwander said his committee didn’t support or oppose the levy. Instead, it was about the decision-making process.

“The petition was not to say it’s a good tax or a bad tax,” he said. “It was about whether the port should just take the money, or should it ask [voters] for the money.”

In a memo to port commissioners dated June 21, port Deputy Director Eric Toews wrote it is “unlikely that the voters of Jefferson County would approve a second multi-year levy period to fund improvements to core port infrastructure — absent substantial additional information, analysis, public outreach [and] discussion of the proposition.”

Toews wrote there isn’t enough time between the end of June and a November ballot measure to organize and implement that effort. He suggested it would be “more prudent to seek a permanent levy lid lift” for the more than $20 million in core infrastructure rehabilitation needs.

The port currently receives less than $1 million in taxes annually from county residents, Toews wrote.

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Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at bmclean@peninsuladailynews.com.

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