Port Townsend council approves funding seven projects

Tax increase comes from banked capacity

PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend City Council has opted unanimously to levy $605,000 in property taxes to pay for seven street, trail and park projects in 2022.

“These are projects that [are] beneficial to everybody to move forward,” member Amy Howard said during the council’s special business meeting on Monday.

She added that, while she didn’t like a property tax hike, she would vote for this one because it funds city amenities that serve a variety of residents.

The projects include:

• Pacific Avenue trail paving from Tremont to Cedar streets, $66,581.

• Spruce Trail improvement from Cedar to Center streets, $21,300.

• ADA curb ramps and improvements on Lawrence Street and at the Mountain View Center, $60,000.

• Repairs and improvements to the Chetzemoka Park kitchen shelter, $100,000.

• Sidewalks along the Ninth Street corridor, $227,500.

• A new swing set for Bishop Park, $30,000.

• Park kiosks and trail signage around the city, $61,000.

A contingency fund of $38,619 is built into the plan, city Public Works Director Steve King told the council. That brings the total levy to the allowed $605,000 next year.

The city’s Finance Department gave estimates of how much homeowners’ taxes will go up: 30 cents per $1,000 in assessed valuation, so about $120 per year on a $400,000 house, or $150 annually on a $500,000 property.

This is based on value established by the county Assessor’s Office, King said, and not on market value.

The city of Port Townsend has this opportunity to levy a tax increase because of a change that occurred in early 2019. City residents approved adding Port Townsend to the East Jefferson Fire & Rescue (EJFR) fire district, so EJFR collects the fire and emergency medical services levies from local taxpayers.

In addition to those dedicated levies, the city was paying for fire service with an allocation from the general property tax levy.

Now, as the city no longer makes payments from its general fund for fire protection, it suspended collection of the equivalent amount of property taxes it would have paid EJFR. The amount became what’s called a “banked capacity” of about $908,000: up to $303,000 for 2021 and $605,000 for 2022.

In 2020, though, the city decided not to levy any of the possible $303,000 in taxes during 2021, given the COVID-19 pandemic.

When planning for the $605,000 next year, King, City Manager John Mauro and city council members held meetings and discussions of how to use that revenue.

They talked with people at the Port Townsend Farmers Market, took a survey of residents’ priorities, posted on social media and provided “a considerable number of engagement opportunities,” King said.

When narrowing down the list of possible street, park and trail work, the city’s staff ranked 174 projects, Mauro said.

“A property tax increase is never an ideal action to take,” Deputy Mayor David Faber said.

But he added that the work plan — for more informative trail signs, improved park amenities and curb ramps — potentially serves families, people with disabilities and anybody who enjoys walking on a non-motorized trail.

At the same time, Faber said he hopes for a future tax system that doesn’t hit people on fixed incomes so hard.

“I hope we do see some tax reform at the state level,” he said.

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Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or durbanidelapaz@peninsuladailynews.com.

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