An islander’s guide to locally proposed taxes and fees

New proposals are popping up around San Juan County, prompting several islanders to ask the Journal staff, “Will that tax me?” The following is a list outlining whether new and ongoing county projects could include a tax or fee.

Proposed taxes and fees

Locals may have their purse strings tightened if the following proposed taxes and fees are approved.

Affordable housing real estate excise tax

County staff have proposed a 0.5 percent tax on local real estate transactions. Revenue would be used to create and maintain local, long-term affordable housing. As of now, the real estate excise tax would mainly be charged to the buyer of local real estate, while a portion of the fee could also apply to the seller. It would cost the purchaser of a median-valued county home ($537,500) roughly $2,688 more. If the county council votes to place the measure on the November 2018 ballot, county voters will decide if the tax will pass. If the measure passes, the collection would start 30 days after the election is certified. The county council is scheduled to discuss this tax proposal for the second time on April 24, where they will likely schedule a public hearing on sending the measure to the ballots, as well as on the financial plan.

Fire and EMS merger

Preliminary talks of a merger between San Juan Island Fire and Rescue and San Juan Island Emergency Medical Services have included a review of how the new district could levy for taxes, but nothing has been finalized. Check the Journal for updates when the fire district and San Juan County Public Hospital District 1 meet on April 4. The hospital district oversees EMS.

Clean water fee

For the first time in almost a decade, county residents may pay more for an annual fee that funds the cleaning of local stormwater and potable water. According to Councilman Rick Hughes, in general, the fee is not considered a tax. For the county, flat fees are the same cost for everyone whereas a tax is usually applied to property or transactions.

The increase will not go up to a vote for county residents. Starting in 2019, county property owners could be annually charged $26 to $56 extra, per parcel, depending on the island of residence. County staff have said the increase is comparable to nearby municipalities’ fees. Around April, the county council will vote on the fee increase proposal. They will also vote to on whether to change the name “stormwater utility” to “clean water utility” to more accurately describe other projects, like protecting groundwater and restoring fisheries, that are supported by the fee.

Life Care services

A task force is researching how to return the services offered at the Life Care Center of the San Juan Islands to the island without charging taxpayers. Evan Perrollaz, of the task force, said the group has joined a consortium of 10 public hospital districts in rural Washington to explore such funding solutions as higher state reimbursement rates from Medicaid and Medicare. The consortium is also applying for grants, including one to hire a consultant to organize the task force’s ideas into a plan with construction and cost objectives. Perrollaz said it is too early to state whether taxpayers will pay for the services, but he said it is a possibility.

No changes

Not every new project in the county will result in charges to taxpayers.

New animal shelter

The Animal Protection Society of Friday Harbor is building a new, roughly 5,400-square-foot shelter off of Cattle Point Road, which was completely funded by private donations. The animal shelter is a private nonprofit and has never received taxpayers’ money. Construction for the building started last May and is slated to be finished by this August. The new facility will include walking trails through the 5-acre lot and an examination room.