Levy lift to keep several county programs alive

The future of a dozen community programs in San Juan County is in the hands of voters in this election. On the ballot this November is Proposition 2, a levy lift set to benefit various members of the community.

“Prop 2 Levy Lift is very important to Senior Centers and their Meal Program partners, San Juan County and Whatcom Council on Aging,” Mullis Center Manager Anna Coffelt said. “It will maintain stable funding for the Senior Meal Program on Lopez, Orcas and San Juan, which includes hot meals served at the Senior Centers several times per week as well as Meals on Wheels delivered to the county’s homebound seniors. This is a major source of nutrition for many of our island residents.”

Initially approved in the fall election of 2009, Proposition 2 is a continuation of an existing levy lift that began in 2010. The original levy was renewed in 2014. The proposed lift would provide stable funding for community programs and services generating $1.7 million in funding based on a levy of 22 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The original lift levy was for 16 cents per $1,000.

According to an FAQ on the county website, the cost and demand for services provided have grown over the last decade warranting the levy lift. Unlike the previous two increases, which each had a six-year limit, this proposition does not specify an ending. A levy lid lift allows a property tax increase greater than 1 percent annually, which is the amount established by state law.

“The demand for the levy-funded programs makes it clear that a permanent funding solution should be pursued,” the FAQ stated.

Programs set to benefit from the lift include maintenance of county buildings and grounds, $23,000; natural resources programming, $40,000; general fund support of the San Juan County Fair, $51,000; corrections and work release program, $54,000; victim services through the Prosecutor’s Office, $68,000; parks and fair maintenance, $100,000; Islands’ Oil Spill Association, $130,000; support to emergency management services, $140,000; public health services on San Juan, Orcas and Lopez islands, $145,000; WSU Extension programs, $228,000; maintenance and operation of county parks, $326,000; and senior services programs on San Juan, Orcas and Lopez islands, $404,000.

“The ‘beneficiaries’ were determined back in 2009 when the County went through a deliberative process to put together a levy increase proposal (levy lid lift) to fund an assortment of community programs and services that were in jeopardy of being eliminated or severely reduced,” County Manager Mike Thomas explained. “In 2014, the County went through a similar lengthy deliberative process and concluded that no other funds were available to reduce or eliminate the need for the levy lid lift.”

The only programs that were added for funding that weren’t originally included are IOSA, park and fair maintenance and natural resource programming — for Southern resident orca and safe shipping efforts.

If approved, the 2014 Levy Lid Lift would be canceled and the new 2019 Levy Lid Lift would become effective in 2020. From then on, the levy amount collected would be limited to a 1 percent increase per RCW 84.55. The total collected levy would be 85 cents per $1,000.

If the levy lift is not approved, at the end of 2020, the levy would terminate unless another lift proposition was placed on the ballot in 2020 and approved.

“If it was placed on the 2020 General Election ballot the outcome of the 2020 vote would not be known until November which would make the County’s budgeting process for 2021 more difficult as two different budget scenarios would need to be developed and discussed,” the FAQ said.

The existing levy will finance the aforementioned projects and departments through 2020.

“If, ultimately, the Levy Lid Lift is not renewed and lapses at the end of 2020, then the programs and services funded since 2009 would be in jeopardy of elimination or severe reduction,” Thomas said.

For more information on Proposition 2, visit https://www.sanjuanco.com/1642/Proposed-Levy-Lid-Lift-2019.