Wednesday, December 27, 2000 -
Clallam County, WA - Republican County Commissioner-elect Mike Chapman is urging commissioners to reverse their decision to join a class action lawsuit against Initiative 722.
Chapman, who will be sworn in on Dec. 29, said the county should refund $283,700 in property taxes and permit fees to taxpayers, despite questions about the initiative's constitutionality or expected administrative costs to refund the money.
Why should I sue my own constituents,'' Chapman asked Tuesday in a telephone interview. "It's not our job as legislators to determine the initiative's constitutionality. It's our job to follow the will of the people.''
Initiative 722 refunds certain fee and tax increases levied between July and December 1999. The initiative passed with 56 percent of the vote statewide.
In Clallam County, more than 59 percent of voters backed the initiative, while 52 percent of Jefferson voters supported it.
The initiative has been challenged in a Thurston County court and ruled a class action, allowing Clallam and other counties to join.
Commissioners Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, and Mike Doherty, D-Port Angeles, voted to join the lawsuit to deflect possible legal action by county voters.
Doherty is on vacation until Jan. 2. Tharinger declined to comment on whether he will reverse his vote. "I will wait until Chapman comes and I'll talk about it then," he said.
Chapman is hoping the county's Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Chris Melly will delay filing the paperwork required to become a party in the lawsuit. The deadline to join the lawsuit is Jan. 5.
The delay would buy time for Chapman to discuss the issue with the two Democrat board members.
Contacted Tuesday, Melly said he could not give "a specific date" for filing the paperwork, but said the county could withdraw from the lawsuit any time before a court ruling.
The county has stalled repaying $197,700 in permit fees and $86,000 in property tax increases to taxpayers, preferring instead to wait for the outcome of the legal challenge. The money is being held in reserve until the court rules.
Chapman is also calling for state lawmakers to enact a law forcing local government to refund the money. "Constitutional or unconstitutional, I believe the county should uphold the intent of the voters," Chapman said. "We should roll back the fees and refund the property taxes." Chapman said he will refuse to sign the resolution joining the suit.
In Jefferson County, commissioner-elect Dan Titterness, R-Port Townsend, said he supports the voters' wishes. But he stopped short of suggesting that county commissioners there reverse last week's vote to join the lawsuit. Reversing that decision could leave the county liable, Titterness said.
For fiscal year 2001, commissioners approved a 2.61 percent rate-of-inflation increase in property taxes, in line with Referendum 47, which passed in 1997. That referendum stipulates the government must limit tax increases to the rate of inflation, except in unusual circumstances. Reducing the tax rate to 2 percent would also throw Jefferson's budget out of balance, Titterness said. Despite his decision not to try to reverse the tax levy increase, Titterness promises to oppose large tax increases.