News

PORT NOT ALONE IN LOOKING AT PROPERTY TAX INCREASE

BY SPENCER WEBSTER

AND JEFF VANDERFORD

South Whidbey Record

You can bet on it.

If you own a home on South Whidbey, the chances that the property tax you pay will rise is excellent.

Sometime in the next few months, the Port of South Whidbey will look at options on how to pay for rebuilding the Langley Marina. Port commissioners have toyed with the idea of creating a special taxing district that could raise money for the project — which could cost as much as $15 million — without a public vote.

Port commissioners aren’t the only ones who are thinking about hitting property owners with higher property taxes.

Officials at Whidbey General Hospital have been talking about a ballot measure to pay for a renovated hospital wing, and the South Whidbey Parks & Rec District is considering a public vote for money to pay for a new sports/aquatic center.

Fire District 3 will also need extra money to develop five acres of land the district has purchased in Bayview; a new central administration center and fire station is planned.

Add to the list the Sno-Isle Regional Library System. Sno-Isle will be asking for a “levy lid” raise in the next five years, according to spokeswoman Mary Kelly.

It’s currently unknown how big the total tax bill will be over the next four or five years. Fire District 3, Sno-Isle and Whidbey General Hospital have not yet refined the projects that are under consideration to the point where the increase to the property tax levies can be determined.

Others have, however.

If all the other proposals being floated pass — the port and park districts projects — the owner of a home worth $350,000 will need to ante up $210 more per year. Rates could start increasing as early as November and continue through 2010 and beyond.

That number doesn’t include expanding the hospital, Fire District 3’s plans or shoring up the library district. Nor does it include the extension of the levies and bond measures for the South Whidbey School District that were passed in November, though district officials have said they are considering extensions to those measures when the current ones expire in 2010.

News of the Port of South Whidbey’s emergent plan for a special taxing district have left some wondering about the tax burden placed on South End property owners. Beyond ballot measures that assess special levies, property owners already pay levies for the port, schools, the Sno-Isle system, Whidbey General Hospital, the parks district, fire service and a multitude of county levies (for the general fund, for roads, for veterans’ assistance, for mental health and developmental disability programs and for Conservation Futures). Incorporated sites also get a share of the property taxes raised in Washington.

Most recently, South End voters last month raised their tax rate by just under

25 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Linda Kast, president of the board for the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District, has real concerns about how South Enders might react to new projects.

“I agree it’s a good idea to find out how much more taxation people are willing to bear,” she said.

“It’s confusing and our task is to do research before anything goes on the ballot. The real difficulty is that the tax burden is shared by a smaller community so we’re going to try and find out,” Kast said.

Port of South Whidbey

The 800-pound gorilla at the tax levy table is the Port of South Whidbey.

In January, the port will take control of the Langley Marina and port commissioners have plans to expand it over the next seven to 10 years. The final design hasn’t been decided upon, but the prevailing opinion is that about $15 million will be needed.

The port can raise the money in several ways, including a simple levy increase, a general obligation bond or the establishment of a industrial development district where property taxes could be increased without a public vote.

Today, the port’s levy rate is 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The maximum allowed by state law is

45 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value for six years only. At that rate, homeowners could see an increase up to $123.50 added to their tax bill.

Whether the port will actually seek that much depends on the size of the marina project. At 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 25 port commissioners and Langley council members will review the latest options.

Parks & Recreation

The South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District just had two ballot measures pass. The first was a continuation of their current levy that pays for operating and maintenance costs.

The second was a 20-year general obligation bond worth $1.6 million for capital improvements. The measure will add an increase of 1.9 cents per $1,000 of assessed property evaluation to property tax bills.

For homeowners, that means a roughly $6.65 per year increase for a home valued at $350,000. The levy covers the two years commencing in 2009 for collection in the years 2009 and 2010.

The bond will pay for community park upgrades, the Castle Park playground and improving Trustland Trails.

The district is also looking hard at future expansion options.

In response to a resident questionnaire two years ago, the parks district is considering asking island residents to approve a much larger bond in February 2009 to pay for a sports complex and aquatics center. Total construction costs for the facility are estimated at $16.4 million.

If passed, the bond would increase property taxes an additional 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or $87.50 per year for a $350,000 home.

But first, the board must decide whether to go forward on hiring an architecture and engineering firm to produce the feasibility study needed, as a follow-up to the 2007 Master Plan.

“We’ve received four responses to our request for proposal,” said executive director Terri Arnold. “We’ll be screening and interviewing the best candidates.”

The study will provide demographic data, an estimate of the five-year operational costs and the cost of construction.

The study will cost between $15,000 and $30,000 and should be finished in July.

Arnold and Parks Commissioner Allison Tapert said no decisions have been made.

“We haven’t decided on how big or even if the sports and aquatic center will be built,” Tapert said. “We have to do our homework first and that’s what the study is for.”

South Whidbey School District

The South Whidbey School District asked for and received approval from voters for an extension of their current levy — 83 cents per $1,000 of assessed value — plus two bonds totaling 23 cents of assessed value for 2009 and 2010.

For someone owning a home worth $350,000, the increase amounted to about $80.50 a year.

District Superintendent Fred McCarthy said that the district goes out for maintenance renewal on a two-year basis due to changes in enrollment, employment and housing. That means there will be an extension in 2010.

Also that year, the district’s 20-year bonds will expire.

“There are currently no written long-term plans in place for a levy or

bond,” McCarthy said.

“However, my take is the board would want to run a maintenance levy at capacity and consider capital, technology and transportation levies as needed,” he said.

“We have talked about a replacement bond concept for deferred maintenance and improvements when existing bonds mature in 2010,” McCarthy added.

The school’s facility committee recommendation does have contingency

recommendations, but McCarthy said he doesn’t consider those a long-term plan.

“The possibility exists of asking the voters to consider a replacement bond issue in 2010 to remodel and repair facilities,” he said. “No decisions yet, however.”

Fire District 3

For Fire District 3, ground was broken in early February and work has already begun at the new fire station and Island Transit park-and-ride facility in Langley.

But the district isn’t sure how much it may need to complete the development of its next fire hall, one in Bayview on five acres of land it recently purchased from The South Whidbey Commons. The purchase gives the district with a total 9.5 acres to construct a central administration center and fire station, the district’s chief said.

“The plan there is, we’ve just started our 10 year vision of Fire District 3 of a central facility. Once we get the facility, this will complete our facility needs for many years,” said Chief Dan Stout.

The new facility could cost $4 million, and Fire District 3 commissioners are considering their options about how to fund the project.

“Our capital improvement budget is less than $1 million. That is not enough for a central facility,” Stout said.

“The board is wrestling the use of several options, ones that are in the best interest of the taxpayers. We are gathering information about how to fund the project. We’re looking at a bond, a levy lid lift, a maintenance and operations levy for six years,” he said.

Before construction occur at Bayview, a laundry list of tasks must be completed first.

“We’ll need architectural drawings, conceptual drawings. We’ll have to go through a permitting process,” Shout said. “We have a goal of getting those parts done by the end of the year.”

The last time the district asked for a levy in the late 1990s, the voters shot it down. Stout said he hopes the voters understand the district has managed its money effectively.

“This is one of the best managed districts. We save money and put it in the capital improvement budget,” he said. “But the longer we wait, the more expensive it will be. Costs increase an average of 10 percent per year.”

Whidbey General Hospital

The numbers needed for improved facilities are still up in the air for officials at Whidbey General Hospital, as well.

The hospital is looking to build a new patient wing, and some within the the hospital district were already eyeballing potential election dates to ask voters to help fund the needed improvements.

But when cost estimates came in too high, hospital commissioners decided to hold off on any bond request at least until the winter of this year or spring of 2009.

“We’re looking at a whole new hospital construction scheme and a new plan,” said hospital spokeswoman Trish Rose.

“A remodel of the wing is necessary,” Rose added, but there is currently no estimate of how much the work will cost.

Roger Case, president of the hospital district’s board of commissioners agreed.

“We’re still working out the details and don’t have a cost estimate for the bond yet,” he said.

“None of us have solid information. But it is our anticipation that we’ll need to raise money for the patient wing,” he said.

The district is looking to build a clinic on the South End, as well, but the hospital already has funding for the project lined up.

“The clinic is not tied to the bond issue. It will be privately funded by us and will about $13 million including the land. But the plan is still under review,” Rose said.

The increase in South End population drove the need for a newer, larger clinic that would more effectively service the increased need, Rose said.

The hospital’s new emergency medical services building near Bayview is slated to go to bid in July or August, Rose said.

And if all goes well, groundbreaking and construction would be set for the fall of 2008.

The metal building will cost $3.2 million to construct.

“I’d love to have the clinic at the same time as the EMS station,” Case said. “The new patient wing is at least a couple of years out.”

Port of Coupeville

Just beyond the South End, commissioners for the Port of Coupeville announced on March 12 they will ask voters — including homeowners in Greenbank — for a levy increase.

The request will total an increase of 6 cents per $1,000 of assessed value and will raise the total levy to 21 cents per $1,000.

The November 2008 levy will let the port pay its bond debt, the Greenbank Farm management fee and conduct deferred maintenance on the property it owns.

Levy rates have declined

Despite the gloomy forecast for island taxpayers, it turns out that levy rates have actually decreased over the last 10 years. Because the assessed value of properties in Island County have increased — up more than 55 percent in the past two years alone — the average property tax rate has declined, from $10.26 per $1,000 of assessed value in 1999 to $6.75 today, according to the Island County Assessor.

Still a lot of money — the total amount of taxes to be collected this year in Island County will be $96 million.

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the latest Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Aug 20 edition online now. Browse the archives.