It’s coming down to the same old arguments as Pierce County and its cities weigh the formation of a countywide taxing district for flood control.
Officials from DuPont, Lakewood and Steilacoom questioned Monday night why the proposed flood control district should assess the same tax rate countywide when residents in some areas would benefit from its projects more than those living in other areas.
Lakewood City Councilman Michael Brandstetter said establishing a blanket rate “seems arbitrary given where the risk is” and favored asking property owners in the Puyallup River watershed to pay more given they’ll receive the most benefit.
Steilacoom Town Councilman Marion Smith said people pay different car insurance rates based on risk and asked why it should be different for the proposed zone.
Their comments came as Pierce County officials presented information on the proposed district during a joint meeting of the three cities in DuPont. The County Council is scheduled to introduce a draft ordinance forming the district later today.
Division had begun to resurface even before there was a proposal to consider. The cities of Gig Harbor and Milton have separately appealed a decision that creation of the district carries no significant environmental impacts.
And there was nothing to indicate at the joint meeting that the three cities have softened their earlier position.
The County Council had abandoned the first district it formed last year in the face of litigation from several cities, including Lakewood, Gig Harbor and Milton, that raised this very same argument: that the district is unfair and inequitable. At that time, the district was set to impose a $5 annual fee per parcel.
Officials now propose the district would collect more money, 10 cents per $1,000 of a property’s assessed value. The proposed tax would generate an estimated $8.5 million a year. The money would be used on projects to prevent floodwaters from crippling the Pierce County economy and contaminating Puget Sound.
But like before, county officials are pushing the argument that floodwaters know no jurisdictional borders. Catastrophic flooding would impact every resident and business in the county no matter where they reside by shutting down businesses, the Port of Tacoma and Interstate 5.
County Executive Pat McCarthy said cities can be parochial but that doesn’t do anything to solve the problem.
“We’re in the same boat here. We sink or swim. A rising tide floats all boats, whether you’re a big boat or a small boat,” she said.
County Councilman Dick Muri, whose district include all three communities, told them that the district “is going to happen” and there’s “four solid votes” on the council to form it.
“I’m on the inside,” he said. “I see the train coming down the track, and I’m trying to do what I can to steer it in the right direction.”
His main goal will be to amend the ordinance to cap the tax rate at 10 cent so the “much more liberal” County Council he foresees in the future can’t raise it.
Lakewood City Councilman Don Anderson shared the concern, saying a fair assumption by the public is that tax rates “tend to go to the top and stay there.”
DuPont City Councilman John Ehrenreich questioned why it would be so difficult for the district to assess different rates based on the benefit received.
Brian Ziegler, director of county Public Works and Utilities, said the challenge doesn’t stem from drawing the boundaries but rather attaching a dollar value to the benefit.
“Who benefits when I-5 is protected?” he asked. “Who benefits when the sewer treatment plants are protected?”
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