The Port of Seattle Commission recently reversed itself, voting to not increase its property-tax levy on the homeowners throughout King County. Why?
The Seattle Times credited testimony by the Municipal League and individual taxpayers at a Commission hearing. Here's an op-ed we wrote that previously appeared in the paper:
Port of Seattle: Don't increase tax revenues
By Bradley Meacham and Bruce Carter
The Municipal League of King County recommends the Port of Seattle commission reduce the $8.1 million increase in the proposed 2009 real estate tax levy.
A league committee monitoring the affairs of the Port of Seattle has concluded the increase is not warranted, especially considering the financial meltdown that is dramatically afflicting business activity and real property values in King County.
The Port commission is expected to take its final vote on the increase at its meeting Tuesday at Sea-Tac Airport.
We understand the level of commerce through the Port will be reduced in 2009, and we believe that a corresponding reduction in the proposed capital levy is appropriate.
The Port of Seattle has not been transparent about what particular economic development the additional taxes will purchase or the necessity to spend the money in 2009.
Since Sea-Tac Airport is substantially self-supporting, the levy funds principally support the seaport and real estate activities where it appears there may be some leeway for cost reductions. When compared with the Port of Tacoma which has a similar volume of seaborne freight, the Port of Seattle's levy revenues have historically been four or five times larger. And the Port of Seattle's non-airport work force is roughly twice as large as Tacoma's.
We were quite disappointed by the Port's misleading attempt to portray the agency's proposed $8.1 million increase in the levy as a tax decrease for homeowners. It is true the Port is proposing to lower the levy rate per $1,000 of property value from $0.225 to $0.219. That's a decrease of 2.7 percent. However, this reduction is more than offset by the double-digit increase in the assessed value of the average residential property in King County. The Port states that a homeowner with property assessed at $300,000 would pay less in 2009 than it paid in 2008. This argument is misleading because property assessed at $300,000 for tax purposes in 2008 would almost certainly be assessed at a much higher value in 2009, with the result that the homeowner would pay a higher tax, even at the lower rate. The Port's position is even more troubling because many homeowners cannot sell their homes at current tax appraisal values due to the recent decline in home prices.
During the years from 1992 until 2001, the Port of Seattle was able to operate with a constant levy amount of $35.6 million. Since 2001 the amount of funding raised through the levy has more than doubled, growing at an average annual rate of 10 percent. We suggest that the Port consider reducing the proposed $84 million levy to a lesser amount until the current economic crisis is past.
Our committee is continuing our Port study and we will later address the levy more systematically.