Board supermajority needed to OK countywide flood-control tax
Pierce County’s flood-control zone district is officially up and running. But adopting a countywide tax to pay for flood projects could prove more difficult than some planners anticipated.
That’s because the district’s Board of Supervisors – the same seven elected leaders who sit on the County Council – voted recently to require a supermajority to approve a tax.
The result is that five members – not a simple majority of four – must adopt a tax that would raise money to protect the public from catastrophic flooding.
Councilman Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake, said he proposed the supermajority to protect taxpayers.
“I understand we need taxes,” Roach said. “I want to make it hard to raise them.”
The supermajority requirement, adopted by the flood-control board in one of its first actions this month, will accomplish that, he said.
Council member Rick Talbert, D-Tacoma, said that’s not necessarily the case because council members usually work out their objections – especially on tax increases – and reach a consensus before it’s time to vote.
“It may not be as big an impediment as you might think,” Talbert said. “But it’s still an extra hurdle to overcome.”
The Board of Supervisors approved the supermajority requirement by a 5-2 vote on July 11. Talbert and board Chairwoman Joyce McDonald, R-Puyallup, voted no.
“The biggest issue for me is what are we trying to fix,” Talbert said. “There hasn’t been any reason this needed to be addressed.”
The County Council voted in April to create a countywide taxing district to pay for flood control. It proposed limiting the tax to 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The average homeowner would pay around $25 per year under that scenario.
The tax would provide about $7.6 million a year for flood projects – from rebuilding levees to buying up flood-prone properties.
Some nonflood-prone communities, such as Gig Harbor and Milton, have opposed a tax, saying they would get little or no benefit and shouldn’t have to pay the same as cities in the Puyallup River Valley.
But flood-district supporters say all county taxpayers have a stake in protecting at-risk public infrastructure such as Interstate 5 and the Port of Tacoma.
Under state law, the district could collect up to 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The soonest the county could start collecting the tax is Jan. 1.
McDonald said she expects the supervisors to decide on a tax during the first two weeks of November.
She said she voted against the supermajority requirement because she doesn’t want a newly created advisory committee to focus on flood-control projects that could win five votes.
“I’m not opposed to the supermajority,” McDonald said. “I just thought it was a little premature.”
McDonald said it’s not clear whether the five-vote requirement will make it more difficult to adopt a tax.
“It just remains to be seen,” she said.
Roach said in proposing his supermajority amendment that he sought parity for all county taxes.
In May, the County Council voted 5-2 to put a charter amendment proposal on the November ballot that would require any new tax to be approved by five council members. Talbert and Tim Farrell, D-Tacoma, voted no.
But that ballot measure would not apply to a flood-control district tax because such a tax must be adopted by the Board of Supervisors.
Roach said there are existing sources of money for flood projects: One is a $1.6 million fund balance from the Law Enforcement Support Agency; another is $3 million from annual surface water management funds.
“I’m for exhausting all other methods,” he said.
As for raising property taxes to pay for flood projects, Roach said, “I’m hoping that’s a last alternative.”