PORT TOWNSEND — A petition to put before voters a Port of Port Townsend resolution to levy additional property taxes over the next 20 years will be sent to the Jefferson County Auditor’s Office on Wednesday.
David Neuenschwander of Quilcene, a leader of the Committee for Port Accountability, said that the petition has gathered more signatures than it needs to have a question placed on a ballot.
As of Friday evening, the group had collected “perhaps as many as 25 percent more than the required number of signatures needed,” Neuenschwander said in a statement that will need to be verified by the Jefferson County Auditor’s Office.
The petition is to have the multi-year levy imposed by Resolution 698‐19, which was adopted by port commissioners on March 27 to fund projects within an Industrial Development District, referred to the voting public.
“The petition neither supports nor opposes the tax; it simply asks for a vote of the people as allowed by law.,” the petition says.
The petitions must be delivered Wednesday to the county auditor’s office, which will verify the signatures by comparing names on the petition with names of registered voters. Verified signatures must number at least 1,636, which is 8 percent of the total number of votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial election.
That process could take two weeks. If the petition has enough verified signatures then it will go before the county commissioners to set an election.
All petitions with signatures must be in Neuenschwander’s hands by Tuesday so that he can deliver them to the courthouse on Wednesday.
According to the petition, under the port ordinance, the port can increase property tax in any one year by up to 45 cents per $1,000 dollars of assessed valuation.
The measure is to allow the port “to raise an estimated $15 million in total taxes over 20 years, all without a vote of the people,” the petition says.
Signatures are being gathered around the county by volunteers. The committee said hiring paid signature gathers would have cost $7.50 per signature or $17,250.
Port Commission President Bill Putney said the levy to be collected for the Industrial Development District (IDD) is to be collected over a period of 20 years and would cost a taxpayer with a property assessed value of $370,000 an average of $50 per year over the 20 years.
Putney said the maximum 20-year amount that can be taken is $2.70 per thousand of the base year (2019) assessed value of a property. That cap is about $15 million for the entire county.
“The port currently takes a little under 20 cents per $1,000 (of assessed valuation) as its general property levy,” he said. “That’s about 2 percent of the total property tax assessed in the county. That’s about $1 million this year, which is about 10 percent of the port’s total revenue in 2019.”
Putney said each fall when the port’s budget is established, port officials would determine how much of the IDD levy is needed to accomplish capital projects identified in the Comprehensive Scheme of Harbor Improvements.
The port commission then notifies the county assessor to take that amount. When the $2.70 cap is reached, or 20 years has elapsed, the tax window is closed.
Putney said the port provides “good value” for the tax dollars it gets.
“The port provides public recreational facilities in Port Townsend, Quilcene, Gardiner and Mats Mats,” he said.
”The port operates the Jefferson County International Airport as a state-designated essential public service, critical to the disaster relief plan for the county.
“The port infrastructure is the foundation that supports more than 1,100 direct jobs and 2,200 total jobs throughout the county. More than 450 of those jobs are in Boat Haven Industrial Park.
“Each year, the port and businesses that depend on it pay nearly $6 million in property taxes for the not quite $1 million the port receives,” Putney said.
He said he knows the port has between $15 million and $19 million worth of repairs in infrastructure to do in the next five years. Some of it will be funded with state and federal funds.
“The days of open-handed full grants from out-of-county sources is coming to a close,” Putney said. “The port should be investing in future economic development opportunities, but we are not keeping up with current infrastructure needs.”
He said that infrastructure is aging and nearing its useful life. Some of that infrastructure cost is directly related to port users and tenants and is rolled into fees and leases. However, much of the infrastructure, is not billable and recreational facilities and basic infrastructure costs could never be recovered by fees.
“I don’t think endangering all the living wage jobs and the $6 million in property taxes or pushing locals out of our marinas is even a direction I want to contemplate.”
A special election would cost the port approximately $10,000 paid to the county auditor’s office, plus substantial costs of port staff time.
Petitions are in several venues around East Jefferson County.
For more information, email [email protected]
Jefferson County Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].