The board for Pierce County’s new flood-control zone district on Wednesday approved a countywide property tax of 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed value starting next year to pay for flood projects.
The average homeowner will pay about $25 per year.
Property owners countywide will see the new tax on their property tax statements in mid-February.
The board of supervisors, made up of the seven Pierce County Council members, adopted the tax by a vote of 5-2. Dan Roach and Dick Muri voted no.
Board and council chairwoman Joyce McDonald said the tax is “fair and right” because all property owners in the county will pay for flood control, not just those in unincorporated areas.
“It’s the right thing to do and it’s the right time to do it,” before a flood disaster happens, said McDonald, R-Puyallup.
Roach, R-Bonney Lake, contended money for flood-control projects could come from the county general fund and a separate surface-water management fund without need for a new tax.
Roach said the 10-cent tax is “completely arbitrary” and called the step “a big mistake.”
Board member Rick Talbert, D-Tacoma, said there’s not enough money in the general fund for flood control, especially when the council is cutting jobs.
“This is a $300 (million) to $400 million problem at least,” Talbert said, supporting the separate flood-control tax.
Adopting the tax required at least five yes votes.
The County Council voted in April to create a countywide taxing district to pay for flood control. It recommended limiting the tax to 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed valued. Under state law, the district could collect up to 50 cents per $1,000.
The flood district’s advisory committee last month recommended the 10-cent figure.
The tax will provide $6.89 million a year for flood projects, such as rebuilding levees and buying up flood-prone properties. Of that amount, $204,520 will fund administrative costs. Ten percent – $689,670 – will go back to cities and unincorporated areas for their stormwater and flood projects through an “opportunity fund.”
Brian Ziegler, public works and utilities director, said the county will start work on projects in 2013. The advisory committee will assemble a list of projects early next year and recommend it to the supervisors.
The County Council voted 5-2 in April to create the flood-control district. Council members Stan Flemming, R-University Place, and Roach voted no then.
Flemming said Wednesday the council’s reduction in the surface-water management fee and fund Tuesday cut potential duplication in taxes. About $2.5 million from that fund annually pays for flood control.
“I believe that we are now moving in the right direction,” Flemming said.
Some non-flood-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 Valley.
But supporters have said all county taxpayers have a stake in protecting at-risk public infrastructure such a Interstate 5 and the Port of Tacoma.
Officials say a major flood could do up to $725 million in damage, shutting down I-5 and other roads, disrupting the port and damaging sewage-treatment plants along the Puyallup River. Residents were reminded of that risk between 2006 and 2009, when the county sustained three of the 15 largest floods of the past 100 years.
After Wednesday’s meeting, Muri said he voted no because his constituents in Steilacoom, DuPont and Lakewood don’t want or need the 10 percent opportunity fund. Muri, R-Steilacoom, also cited the inability to levy a variable tax based on how much an area would benefit.
Board member Roger Bush said the tax is necessary because the county is under a “grave threat” of flooding with miles of uncertified levees.
“We’ve seen it get close to total disaster in recent flood years,” said Bush, R-Frederickson. “We cannot take the risk any longer.”
Tim Farrell, D-Tacoma, cited council members’ efforts to streamline funding for surface-water management.
“I think that this proposal is good,” Farrell said of the new tax. “It is certainly far from perfect.”