This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.
For Pierce County government, tight budgets during the economic downturn have meant taking such belt-tightening measures as layoffs, furloughs and canceling Superior Court jury trials for two weeks to save the cost of paying $10 a day to members of the jury pool.
Next year’s budget looks even more challenging. Revenue is badly needed – especially new revenue.
An important source of that is the tax collected on new construction. But the county and other taxing districts could miss out on millions of dollars in new revenue for at least a year because Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam has told his inspectors to focus exclusively on physical inspections of existing properties. Those inspections were at the crux of his vendetta against his predecessor, Ken Madsen.
Washam’s decision – which a Department of Revenue spokesman called “unprecedented” – hurts not only the county and other taxing districts but also individual taxpayers. New revenue added to tax rolls would help keep property tax bills from going up as much as they otherwise might because the overall tax burden is spread out among more payers.
If inspections of new construction projects aren’t conducted as required under state law by July 31, their owners will receive all the benefits of services without paying for them for the next year or more. Current taxpayers would have to subsidize those services, which include everything from police and fire to schools.
Washam says he doesn’t have the staff to do both physical inspections of existing properties and new construction, so county leaders have offered him $20,000 in additional funding. Washam has agreed to use that money to extend inspections of new construction by one week, but that won’t be long enough to get to all the projects.
Ironically, Washam is facing the same dilemma that challenged his nemesis, Madsen: not enough staff to conduct physical inspections. Madsen resorted to using computer modeling to establish valuations – which have been proved to be accurate. Washam, in his zeal to accomplish what he believes Madsen failed to do, apparently would prefer to forgo new inspections and leave much-needed new revenue on the table.
Washam’s intentions regarding inspections of new construction past the one week he agreed to are unclear – mainly because he won’t talk to anyone. County leaders are preparing to take legal action later this week if he continues to be unresponsive.
Good. The only way to deal with a bully is to get tough. He’s already cost Pierce County taxpayers millions in legal bills and lawsuit settlements. He shouldn’t be allowed to stand in the way of the county and other taxing districts receiving revenue they’re entitled to by law.