Port to pay Farm renters’ taxes

Port of Coupeville commissioners last Wednesday shot down an attempt by a to recover leasehold taxes from Greenbank Farm tenants not included in their lease agreements.

When Port consultant John Coyne discovered the Port was not collecting taxes on its leased agricultural land at Greenbank Farm, he sent a letter last month requesting two years back taxes from the tenants, Dick Whittick and Alf Christianson Seed Co., for $554.68 each. The letter also said the tax would be included in the leases in the future, and that the Port would advise them if there were any state Department of Revenue late payment penalties.

Coyne’s action was not discussed at any prior Port meeting, and did not have board approval.

Commissioner Benye Weber called foul on Coyne’s move, and she had done her homework. Neither of the leases mentioned paying the tax, and she found agricultural land rules officials in Skagit, San Juan, and Whatcom counties did not support the lessees paying the taxes.

“It was our mistake,” she said. “They felt we should bear the burden.”

Coyne tried to defend his action by citing a state law, which he included with the letters, that said if the lessor did not pay the taxes, the lessee was obligated to pay.

The commissioners unanimously dismissed that line of reasoning.

“We screwed up,” Commissioner Ed Van Patten said. “We will pay the taxes.”

Laura Blankenship, Greenbank Farm executive director, said both lessees felt the request was unfair, and that they were already paying top dollar for the land.

The seed company leases 8.5 acres, while Whidbey Island Alpacas leases 10 acres.

Whittick, who was not present at the Port meeting, was pleased with the outcome of this back taxes discussion.

“I think it was an appropriate response,” he said. “I negotiated the lease in good faith, and was surprised to find they wanted to change it half way through.” Whittick has a three-year lease, with a three-year renewal option.

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