By Barbara LaBoe, December 23, 2013, Daily News
Despite pleas for a holiday change of heart, the Port of Longview commissioners again voted 2-1 Monday to double property taxes in the port district. The move fixes a paperwork glitch related to their Nov. 26 decision.
As they did before, commissioners Lou Johnson and Darold Dietz approved the increase, saying the port needs more money to pay debt, repair buildings and add utilities. Commissioner Bob Bagaason objected.
Four people spoke against the increase, saying the port should reduce, not raise, its tax rates. No one spoke in favor of the increase during public comments. Longview’s John Green said the proposed uses for the new taxes amount to a “Christmas wish list” and not necessities.
“You can either become Grinches for Christmas or you can become Santa Claus to thousands of people in Cowlitz County,” he told commissioners before the vote. “The choice is yours.”
“I am asking you do to better,” Kelso’s Diane Dick told commissioners, noting port officials had pledged to further reduce taxes in 2012. “Please do the right thing.”
Dietz said the vote wasn’t easy, but he felt the port needs the money to continue creating jobs and attract investment by new businesses that increase the county’s tax base. He said repairs to existing facilities have been put off for many years and are in critical need. And, he said the port has to turn away interested companies because it doesn’t have facilities in place for new developments.
“(Without an increase) we can stay static or go backwards,” Dietz said. “But what we’re trying to do is move our community forward.”
Johnson exopressed concern about the port’s debt, noting the tax increase will help pay down existing loans.
Bagaason said he worried about raising taxes now, noting the port has had record revenue for several years and has “money in the bank.” He also said if the port wants to act more like a business, then it needs to act like a business and not rely on property taxes for revenue.
Dietz noted a previous public request that a “sunset” date be assigned to the tax increase. He said that’s something commissioners need to work on, but a such a date was not included in Monday’s vote.
Commissioners voted on the matter for a second time due to a paperwork error on their previous vote.
With the vote, the port’s property tax levy will double to the state maximum of 45 cents per $1,000 in valuation. For a $150,000 house, taxes will increase $33 a year, for a total of $67.50. The tax will raise an additional $1.6 million, or an 111 percent increase.
The tax affects all property owners within the port district, which includes Longview, Kelso, Castle Rock, Lexington, Toutle, Silver Lake and Ryderwood. Commissioners adopted the tax after raising the salaries of its top 10 paid administrators by 9 percent for 2014. The hikes collectively will cost the port about $87,000.