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What to do with $1 million in taxes

With nearly $1 million in extra revenue its pockets, Island County is in a quandary over what to do with it.

The money recently came into county coffers from a .08 percent tax rebate the county is eligible for under a Washington state program to aid rural counties’ economic growth. The county is designing criteria to decide which projects to fund with the money.

“This is a sales tax Washington made available to rural counties to develop the infrastructure to benefit economic development,” Island County Planning Director Phil Bakke said.

The county must use the funds to finance public facilities that serve economic development purposes in rural counties. Projects such as sewage systems, transportation or port facilities all qualify under the program.

Island County became eligible for the funds in 2001 when it was classified as a rural county. It received this classification because it is less than 225 square miles in size.

Sharon Hart, executive director of the Island County’s Economic Development Council, said the funds are needed to support the county’s growth.

“We find it really important to work with this,” Hart said. “There’s limited infrastructure dollars out there and this is an opportunity for the county.”

The county now needs to establish an advisory committee to assist in getting a program going to spend the money, Bakke said. The committee will recommend the process for deciding which projects should receive funding, he said.

Some of the projects in Island County that could receive funding are a proposed Freeland sewer system, and paying for an expansion of Oak Harbor’s sewer district, Bakke said.

“Ultimately, we want to encourage these projects to take place in areas of the county that are projected to be economic centers,” Bakke said.

Hart said the county has a definitive need for the funding, which comes in at a rate of approximately $500,000 per year. The Freeland project alone could use all of the money, she said.

“There is a huge need for infrastructure development, and very few dollars to do it,” Hart said.

The money is taken from sales and use taxes. The county is eligible to receive a rebate of .08 percent each year. Hart said this is part of why she believes it is important for locals to spend their money locally.

In order to use the funds, the county must review the economic development portion of its comprehensive plan, Bakke said. The county would like to use the funds for projects that are already in the comprehensive plan, he added.

“The direction right now is to come up with a few options of how to rank the projects,” Bakke said.

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