County commissioners seek legal opinion on proposed real estate excise tax2005-07-27
by JIM CASEY
Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES -- Clallam County commissioners will seek legal advice on four questions about a proposed real estate excise tax that would preserve Clallam County farmland:
* How much?
* How long?
* On whom?
* For what?
Commissioners met Tuesday with members of Clallam Citizens for Food Security, who have petitioned commissioners to place the issue on the Nov. 8 ballot. Commissioners have agreed to do so.
What they haven't decided is how big a tax property buyers would pay.
Likewise, they agree the tax should have a sunset date, but haven't specified how long they could collect it without voter renewal.
They also questioned if they could exempt first-time buyers from the tax or exclude affordable housing.
And while proponents want the tax to buy development rights on farmland, commissioners wondered if it could do so to the exclusion of timberland, shorelines, wetlands and streams that are included in the state law that enables such a tax.
They will ask the county prosecutor's opinion on the issues and discuss them again in a week or two.
As for the first question, Nash Huber, head of the citizens group, wanted to levy the full 1 percent the law allows.
``We feel it's going to be an uphill fight one way or the other,'' Huber said, ``whether it's 0.25 percent or 1 percent.''
Less tax, better chance?
However, Commissioner Steve Tharinger, D-Dungeness, said he thought the measure's odds would be better if it took only a half of 1 percent of the purchase price.
Noting that revenue from the tax would leverage federal matching funds of 30 percent to 50 percent, he said, ``You can still get a meaningful amount for a robust program.''
A half of 1 percent, Tharinger said, would fall more lightly on first-time buyers, whom Realtors are certain to champion when they campaign against it.
Bob Caldwell, head of Friends of the Fields and another excise tax supporter, said that first-time homebuyers could be exempted from the tax.
It also could exclude affordable housing, which are homes selling at 80 percent or less of Clallam County's median home price or at a dollar value indexed to inflation, he said.
County Administrator Dan Engelbertson said determining a property's value in a competitive market could be difficult. Nonetheless, he said he would pose the problem to the prosecutor.
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