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County council ponders renewal of '09 levy 'lid-lift'; $1M in yearly revenue at stake

The San Juan County Council was slated to discuss July 14 whether to place a property tax measure on the November election ballot.

The current county property tax level was established in 2009, during an economic downturn. The county reduced staff, mandated furlough days and cut operating hours to offset shrinking revenues and rising costs at that time.

The ‘09 ballot measure guaranteed funding for programs such as public health, parks, senior services, and 4-H programs, passing by a wide margin.

“Thanks largely to the 2009 lid lift the county’s budget is not in crisis now," county Manager Mike Thomas said in a press release. "But increases in the cost of everything from fuel to building maintenance to employee health insurance have kept our budget tight.”

The ‘09 measure is slated to expire in 2016 if not renewed by the voters before then.

If the ‘09 levy were to lapse, county property tax revenue would drop by more than $1 million dollars.

“A loss of that magnitude would force us to make severe budget cuts,” Auditor Milene Henley said. “And non-mandated programs, including the ones saved by the voters in 2009, would inevitably be hit hardest.”

To maintain the current level of revenue in future years, the property tax levy would be set approximately 19 cents per thousand dollars of value above what the rate would be without the levy lid-lift.

“We’ve worked hard to find efficiencies and keep a tight leash on the cost of providing essential services,” Council Chairman Rick Hughes said. “But we couldn't take a million-dollar drop in property tax revenue without serious reductions in the type and quality of services we provide.”

According to Washington state Department of Revenue, San Juan County has the lowest average property tax levy in the state. In 2013, the average tax rate on property in San Juan County was $6.76 per $1,000 in assessed value, 28 percent below, at $1.94, the average rate of the next lowest county, and 84 percent below, at $5.72 the average property tax rate statewide. 

If the council agrees to proceed with the proposal, a draft of the ballot measure will be available online, at the county website, before the July 31 public hearing.

 

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