City mulls 53% property tax hike

By Barney Burke
Port Townsend Leader Staff Writer

Port Townsend, WA - One of the few agenda items that the Port Townsend City Council didn't get to during a six-hour Monday night meeting is a recommendation from its finance and budget committee to place a large and permanent "levy lid lift" on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.

The matter was toward the end of a lengthy agenda and listed inconspicuously as a committee report. But the accompanying staff report clearly spells out a recommendation to raise

the city's general fund levy by 53 percent, from $1.90 per $1,000 in assessed value to $2.90.

If approved, it would boost city revenues by about $750,000 annually, according to City Manager David Timmons. The recommendation was made by all three committee members (Catharine Robinson, Freida Fenn and Laurie Medlicott) at a July 26 meeting.

The full council is now expected to decide Sept. 7 whether to place the matter on the Nov. 2 ballot. At least 50 percent plus one of voters must support the measure for it to be enacted, said County Assessor Jack Westerman III.

Cost to homeowners

The city's current general fund tax levy, said Timmons, is $1.90 per $1,000 in assessed value. For a home valued at $200,000, the city portion of the current year's property tax bill would rise from $380 to $580. The $200 tax increase works out to $16.67 a month.

However, the total 2003 tax rate for Port Townsend property owners, including levies for Jefferson County, the Port of Port Townsend, and Jefferson County Public Utility District 1 (PUD), is $11.19749 per $1,000 in assessed value. Accordingly, the owner of a $200,000 home is shelling out a total of $2,239.50 in 2003 but would have paid $2,439.50 if the ballot measure were already in effect.

Timmons said that if voters approve it, the new levy rate would be adjusted downward as property values rise so that spiking real estate prices wouldn't give the city a windfall. As an example, he noted that the city's emergency medical services levy was originally 50 cents per $1,000 but has declined to about 42 cents as property values have risen.

The county assessor's staff re-values property within the city limits in 2005 for taxes payable in 2006.

Deferred maintenance

Timmons said the additional revenue is needed to address deferred maintenance of capital facilities especially streets. Had the city raised its levy modestly over the years and done a better job of maintaining assets such as City Hall, he explained, it wouldn't be necessary to consider such a large increase now. Compared to other cities, Port Townsend's levy is fairly low, Timmons suggested.

In the latest utility bill newsletter, Robinson and Timmons indicated that more and more of the city's $1.5 million in general fund levy revenue is eaten up by "unfunded mandates" from state and federal governments.

Although the newsletter gave no specific examples, Timmons said Monday night that the city is having to pay the county for services to the city, including 911 dispatching, the county jail, and animal control. In 1994, the city paid the county $273,816; in 2004, the city paid the county $780,910, according to city figures.

The county used to pay for the public pool at Mountain View Elementary School, he added, but now the city bears nearly all of those costs and the county has suggested that the city operate the community center as well.

(Contact Barney Burke at



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