Open the taxing gates

Record Editorial

  • Friday, October 3, 2008 2:47am
  • Opinion

Snoqualmie Valley is a booming place. New residents seem to be flocking in by the truckload to take advantage of our natural scenic beauty, small-town feel and excellent schools. But this same attraction is causing us to bust at the seams with regard to infrastructure, and it appears the need for major capital expenditures and infrastructure upgrades is on the horizon.

Some may say vote “Yes” for it all, others may say we don’t need any of it. The solid approach would be to place value on human life and our children’s future far above the “nice-to-haves” some may argue are needed in a rural community.

There are several proposed bonds and tax increases in our future. Recently, Fire District No. 38 announced that it would seek a levy lid lift to raise its rate to $1 per $1,000 of assessed value. The current rate is 73 cents per $1,000 for those living outside North Bend city limits. Those inside the city limits pay $1.22 per $1,000, far more than those outside, yet the services are the same.

Next, the facilities task force – put together by the Snoqualmie Valley School District Board of Directors – has identified needs for new schools and facility upgrades. One proposed option includes land acquisition, a second high school and a new elementary school – with a price tag of $209 million. The task force says this will increase our school bond rate somewhere between $1.36 and $1.52 per thousand of assessed value. So with current bonds and the new bond, excluding the maintenance and operations levy, the cost will be in the neighborhood of $3 per thousand of assessed value.

One nice thing about school district bonds is that the amount of the bond is fixed and as valuations rise, the cost per thousand goes down. However, the amount each homeowner pays per year doesn’t change much.

Then we have the city of Snoqualmie and its efforts to build a community center with a pool. I was on the first committee to look at the idea of a community center and pool and the committee concluded it should be a phased project and that pools are a money pit. It’s obvious the Valley could use another pool, taking a regional approach. In a state covered in water, it’s a great thing to have swimming lessons readily available.

Maybe Snoqualmie residents want to support both a school and pool. If not, I would hope the priority would be schools over pools.

Then there is the Metropolitan Parks District that operates and manages Si View. I was on the original committee to form the parks district and at that time, its purpose was to save Si View, the only pool in the Valley. Maybe folks don’t remember but the county basically boarded it up and said it was too expensive to operate. The county left us high and dry with no facility for swimming lessons. Local residents supported the creation of the Metropolitan Parks District with their taxing authority (up to 70 cents per $1,000 assessed value without voter approval).

While I agree a regional approach to an aquatics facility is the only one that makes sense, I have to add that any additional taxes the district might need take a back seat to public safety and education.

So there we are, four possible tax-related proposals coming up. Some in the infancy stages and some in the very near future. The choices won’t be easy, but let’s look at what is driving some of this.

Let’s face it, with growth comes challenges. Our small Valley was not equipped to handle the large influx of people that developments such as Snoqualmie Ridge, Forster Woods and Si View brought to our community. This influx requires infrastructure, such as schools, to be built and upgrades made to existing facilities. It requires more staffing at fire departments that have seen call counts triple over the last 10 years, and it requires police departments that are readily available.

Some will argue that development has been bad for the Valley. I would argue that it has increased my property value by 150 percent and when I am ready to sell, I will be counting my money all the way to the bank.

With new residents come better schools with more programs and a larger tax base. But we should hold developers accountable for such growth. North Bend doesn’t currently have a developer impact fee ordinance, but let’s hope it does before the building moratorium comes to an end. Both Snoqualmie and King County require that development impact fees be paid to the school district to help offset the cost of new residents in the classroom. Unfortunately, these impact fees fall far short of covering the cost of new schools necessary for new residents.

Both the city and county need to look at ways of doubling, or even tripling, these fees to help offset the cost of growth. But an even better approach would be for the state Legislature to take up the issue of requiring development impact fees across the state. These fees should provide a substantial source of capital when developing infrastructure to support new developments.

It’s complicated sorting out which taxes to support. It’s easy for me, though: look at the amount, then prioritize based on public safety, quality of education and the “nice-to-haves.”

I read a comment someone made on one of the Yahoo! groups that maybe our rural community didn’t need all the amenities of a typical urban setting. That is the big question; what are you willing to pay for?

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