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Port’s tax plan finds few fans

South End residents reacted quickly to news that the Port of South Whidbey is considering a property tax hike to pay for rebuilding the Langley Marina.

The new marina, to be built in three phases over four years beginning in 2010, is expected to cost almost $20 million.

Among other financing plans — including a bond measure and various unspecified grants — the port has floated creating an “industrial development district” that would give commissioners the power to raise property taxes for six years without a public vote.

The maximum amount the port could assess is a 45-cent increase per $1,000 of assessed property value. The increase is estimated to cost roughly $157 a year for the owner of a $350,000 home.

Locals are having a hard time swallowing the idea.

Andrew Lewis-Smith of Clinton said it was basically taxation without representation.

“What bothered me most was the port said they might tax us without a vote,” Lewis-Smith said.

“That’s foolishness. I don’t use the marina at all and though I don’t have any objection to it, those who use it should pay. The commissioners need to rethink user fees,” he said.

Michael Snow is a homeowner near Useless Bay who is now questioning the need to have a port district at all.

“My attitude is that as long as government is doing no harm, great,” Snow said.

“But the more I read, the more I ask — who are those people and who do they represent? Why are they so insistent on fixing something that isn’t broken?”

Though he scuba dives on a regular basis at the Langley Marina, Snow doesn’t care for the changes that have been proposed. Maybe it’s time to start thinking about dissolving the district, he added.

“I don’t see why we need a port district,” he said. “I don’t want to pay for an agency whose mandate is economic development. I don’t think I’m alone. There are those who want to keep the island, at least the South End, the same, sleepy, rural place that we moved there for.”

Snow said he has reviewed state law and found that the port district can be dissolved through a petition signed by the majority of the board of

commissioners.

The resulting proceeds from a dissolution of the Port of South Whidbey would go to the school district.

“This seems like everyone’s a winner to me,” he said.

Bob Reich of Freeland questioned whether property owners should be on the hook to pay the port another $200 in taxes each year, when the expanded marina isn’t expected to be much of a revenue generator after it’s finished.

“That’s a big chunk of change. And the idea that the port could create a special taxing district without a vote of the people doesn’t sit well with the people I know,” Reich said.

He questioned if the anticipated $48,000 return on investment makes sense.

“We must ask how can can we stay within our means. The whole thing strikes me as cavalier and presumptuous on the port’s part. Everyone else — schools, parks — has to put it to a vote,” Reich said.

Port Commissioner Lynae Slinden has also heard from some of her Clinton constituents.

“I tell them all the same thing,” she said. “We need a plan before we go out for funding.”

“A development district is just one option but we’re exploring grants and bonds as well. There are different funding sources for different parts of the project, but there’s no project in place yet,” she said.

Slinden expects a crowd at the port’s next meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 12 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland.

“Whatever we do will not be undertaken lightly nor without a great deal of input from those asked to pay for it,” Slinden said. “We’ve attempted to get as much feedback from the public as possible and incorporate their ideas into the master plan.”

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-53000 or jvanderford@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

Community Events, April 2014

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