Port of Port Townsend considering property tax levy increase

By Charlie Bermant, September 11, 2014, Peninsula Daily News

After years of not claiming the full share of property tax revenue that it is allowed by state law, the Port of Port Townsend is examining the possibility of raising its levy rates.


“The recession was hitting everyone hard in the pocketbook, and the commission wanted to be cognizant of people’s hardships,” said Commissioner Steve Tucker at a workshop Wednesday.


“Now that we are coming out of that difficult recession, it’s probably easier to go ahead and increase our levy so we don’t get too far behind.”


The commissioners received a briefing about the property tax structure and how it pertains to the port from Assessor Jeff Chapman and former Assessor Jack Westerman.


The staff has been instructed to present a scenario for each option that will become part of its yearly budget, which must be submitted to the county by Nov. 30.


Westerman presented three scenarios: amounts generated if the port increases its property tax levy by the maximum allowable amount of 1 percent per $1,000 of assessed value including banked capacity, increases by 1 percent only or remaining at its current rate.


Taxing districts such as the port are allowed to increase their shares of property taxes by a maximum 1 percent each year, although they can choose a lesser amount or no raise at all.


Banked capacity allows them to levy less than the maximum increase in property taxes allowed under law without losing the ability to levy higher taxes later.


The port currently receives $899,000 in levy funds. A 1 percent increase would yield a projected $908,000, while the maximum rate would yield $920,000.


Current property tax shares for the port are estimated as $50.87 for a $250,000 home. Not taking the increase would raise that amount to $50.90 because of new valuations, Chapman said.


The 1 percent increase would raise the level to $51.40, while the raise using the banked capacity would be $52.10, Chapman said.


The 1 percent increase is about $9,000, which is “isn’t a significant amount but is about enough to resurface a parking lot,” according to Deputy Port Director Jim Pivarnik.


The port’s 2014 budget was $4.8 million, an increase of 5 percent from the previous year.


Chapman said Westerman’s assistance was solicited “because Jack knows more about this than anybody else.”


Westerman credited Chapman’s programming talent as integral to the following of a new state mandate to conduct assessments on a yearly basis rather than in four-year increments.


“Given Jeff’s skill set, I was not going to be able to handle the conversion,” said Westerman, who resigned last year.


“If we could have figured out how to use the old data in the new system, I would still be assessor today.”


Port Director Larry Crockett said additional funds are needed.


“We are facing some significant infrastructure improvements that will benefit the public,” he said.


Another source of revenue is timber tax income, which is estimated at $36,500 this year but could be higher, Westerman said.


These funds should not be used in the operational budget, he said.


“You never know what you are going to get from this from one year to the next,” he said.


“My advice is to set it aside and use it for capital projects that may come up because one year, you could get zero.


“The nice thing about property tax revenues is that you can count on them.”


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