Taxing district for new ferry in 2011?

On Tuesday, January 11, 2011, in a day-time (apparently mostly) open meeting, the Whatcom County Council’s Committee of the Whole will discuss and maybe adopt a list of actions that Sam Crawford (as 2010 WCC chair) suggested as priorities for the County Council in 2011. Item #3 is to explore a taxing district to raise funds for a new Lummi Island Ferry.

We need to keep an eye on this.

Also relevant:  The Council must complete its revision of the full County Comprehensive Land Use Plan this year (Crawford’s item 8), of which the Lummi Island Subarea Plan is just one element.  The County Comprehensive Land Use plan, by state law, is required to include a coordinated transportation plan related to anticipated population growth. The new comp plan is where (our representatives on) the County Council set transportation service goals and infrastructure for Lummi Island and elsewhere in the County, for the next 20 years.

What the County does in the updated Comprehensive Land Use Plan about transportation will be important to all efforts to project or account for/balance our ferry expenses, operations, incomes etc in the years ahead.  This sure sounds a lot like what the ferry task force has been charged with analyzing and making recommendations for. Land use, transportation infrastructure, fares, new ferries, etc . . . it’s all interconnected.

12 thoughts on “Taxing district for new ferry in 2011?

  1. Number 3 is too close to the top for my taste. Why on earth would Council consider something like this until the task force has completed its report? I think we should be urging the Council to wait for more information from the task force.

  2. Taxing districts may take on a whole new dimension with Gov. Gregoire’s proposal to dismantle the WSFerry system. The problem remains that the County has every authority to operate a ferry from Lummi Island, but possibly none at Gooseberry Point.

    A taxing district supplying 55% of the ferry’s operating budget will undoubtedly be a hardship for islanders, but levies under a broader district may be very difficult to pass. The prospect of moving the mainland landing and replacing the boat make the costs higher and passage less likely.

  3. I agree that the timing is off, but Barbara Brenner told me months ago that she thinks we need to set up a taxing district specifically to finance a new boat. She was concerned about the Chief’s age and condition and didn’t want us to be unprepared to fund the inevitable purchase of a replacement boat when it is needed. My understanding was that the task force would be focused on costs, budgeting and operations–not a new boat.

    I still believe that a ferry taxing district is the only way to share ferry costs equitably among all property owners, as a supplement to ever-increasing fares, and as a means of stabilizing them. As it stands now, full time residents and communters shoulder the lion’s share of operational costs, and if fares continue to skyrocket, the community, businesses, school, workers, and families will not be able to carry the load. Yes, this is a beautiful place, but the community, as well as the island’s services and resources, are another major reason people buy property here. This, and good ferry service, is crucial to the security of the personal and financial investment that all property owners have in Lummi Island. It’s about way more than money to everyone who loves this place.

    I would like to see the task force address a ferry taxing district with a two-fold purpose. First, to supplement ferry fares in an effort to keep them affordable enough to insure the survival of our community. Second, to start saving for a new boat when we need one (in addition to exploring grants and other funding sources).
    Sure, we all hate more taxes, but what else can we do? The ferry is our life line, and we all need to share equitably in it’s cost.

  4. Does anyone know of any existing ferry taxing districts that we could look into for examples? It would be interesting to see what percentages other systems are using for taxes vs. fares and what kind of a population these places support.

    I think Colleen is right in that higher fares would have a negative impact on commuters and those that use the ferry a lot and would encourage more part time residents and those that use the ferry less. However, a taxing district might make it disproportionately cheaper for people who use the ferry a lot, or are renters, and we might see an increase in the population of these residents. Either way it is likely to effect the lifestyle on the island.

    What level of taxing are we talking about? A flat fee for each property? A percentage of property value? A tax per resident? A vehicle tax? Would it be $200 or $2000? These would be important answers to have in order to responsibly debate the issue, and for the council to have before they vote anything into ordinance.

    • To answer one of my own questions, it looks like the State of Washington has an RCW from 2007 in which it states that a county may levy a tax for ferries up to 75 cents per one thousand dollars of property value. A property of $300,000 would see a tax of $225. Another way to figure it is to find out how much property value is on the island total, and see how much that would bring into the ferry budget.

      Anyone know how to get that number?

          • If “we” (whoever “we” might be) were really smart, “we” would start an annual to-do list of things like getting and publishing this kind of information. Could come in handy, especially as one possible metric for assessing what happens to property values over time. Lots of folks think that increased ferry fares / decreased service will lead to lower property values. Tracking this annually, along with events like changes in fares etc, might give us all better ‘reality-based’ understanding of what’s happening.

  5. We had better be careful what we ask for, have you ever experienced a Tax that decreased?.

    For 87 years the Whatcom County Ferry has been able to operate without a Local Ferry Taxing District through both good and bad times. It is my belief this is a very premature idea. First, let us get the results of the Ferry Task Force with what ever it brings to the mix before we consider any other methods.

    By reading the language in the RCW, it appears to me that the Council can indeed mandate an additional Tax Levy on the Citizens, all the Citizens, County wide,, not upon a local area only. I believe to Levy on a Localized Area it will take a Su Area election before that can happen.

    This is just an opportunity to look for “new” additional money instead of evaluating and trying to reform the existing structure.

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