Whidbey feels election's effects

A waiting game played by many Island County taxing agencies this fall paid off Tuesday when Initiative 747 passed by a wide margin, both in the county and across the state.

The initiative will reduce the amount of property taxes governments can collect by cutting the allowable annual increase from 6 percent to 1 percent. Predicting it would pass, elected officials with the city of Langley, the Port of South Whidbey, and the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District all wrote 2002 budgets or backup budgets that took this into account. On Wednesday night, when it already seemed clear I-747 would become law, Langley Councilman Ray Honerlah said he was glad the city planned ahead.

“It’s obvious we made the right decision in preparing for the passage of I-747,” he said.

The city will lose a few thousand dollars in tax revenue out of the $164,988 in property taxes it expects to collect next year. The amount will snowball over time, say city officials, as inflation and the cost of living outstrips the city’s ability to levy new taxes. Mayor Lloyd Furman said the tax cut will hurt city government and services in the long run, but there will be no great tax savings for property owners. City clerk-treasurer Debbie Mahler estimated the cut will save a property owner with a $100,000 house $10 next year — a savings Furman said could quickly be wiped out with an increase in property values.

“The money is in the assessed valuation,” he said.

Other taxing districts did not set any financial plans in concrete prior to the vote. At their meeting Wednesday night, Fire Protection District 3’s commissioners set the date for the district’s preliminary budget hearing for Nov. 15. Noting the district will lose about $79,000 in tax revenue in 2002 due to I-747, Commissioner Mike Helland said FD3 will not take the kind of hit some other fire departments will.

“Initiative 747’s passage is going to have some impacts on mainland departments,” he said.

Once I-747 becomes law, there may not be much of a chance that it will be overturned like previous tax initiatives I-695 and I-722. Island County Commissioner Mike Shelton said Friday that few elected officials around the state believe I-747 has a constitutional flaw, as did other measures proposed by Mukilteo initiative author Tim Eyman.

The county has not yet finished a preliminary budget for 2002. A budget hearing is expected to be scheduled for Dec. 3.

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