A letter to the Commissioners Of The Port Of Seattle on the 2021 Tax Levy

This is in response to the 11/10/2020 Port Of Seattle’s Regular Commission Meeting. As a Port District, the Port is allowed to enact a property tax, colloquially referred to as the ‘Tax Levy’. It is typically only a few dollars for every resident. Unlike other Port revenue, use of the Tax Levy is almost totally unconstrained. This has made it particularly controversial because it is mostly used to pay off bonds or for a wide variety of community-interest programs. No dollars are applied to mitigating the negative impacts of aviation.

To put this into practical terms, if the Port chose to apply the portion of the Levy paid in by the airport communities, there would be adequate monies to significantly fund Port Packages, School HEPA filters and a Continuous, Comprehensive Air Quality Monitoring System.

Commissioners,

I tried to sign up for public comment, but received an email error message in reply. I’m trying not to take it personally. 😀

However, here’s what I would’ve covered (and coincidentally two of you tagged the two topics I would’ve spoken on):

1. I very much appreciate Commissioner Bowman’s comments regarding making the budget more straightforward. As some of you may know I wrote accounting software for many years. Your corporation isn’t all -that- large vertically (in terms of dollars) but quite complicated horizontally. And there are a number of things could be doing more to make it more comprehensible for the general public. I hope you will create some sort of mechanism to allow people like me to suggest specific tweaks. I think it would not only help the public, but it would also be valuable to you as decision-makers.

2. To Commissioner Felleman’s comments re. the value of the Tax Levy and GO Bonds not being well-understood by the public, this is my take. I believe that the public (at least here in Des Moines) do understand the basics; they just don’t like it. There’s no way to ‘sell’ the notion of using their tax dollars to pay off bonds; they just don’t appreciate it on principle. Whether it’s a few dollars or not, it feels wrong–especially during COVID-19.

And I’ll take it further–Cities like Des Moines feel like we get the short end of the stick from the Port. We don’t just ‘feel’ it, it’s the truth. The overwhelming benefits of the airport accrue to north and east King County. Conversely, the overwhelming negative impacts accrue to Cities like Des Moines. Since it is not legally possible to exempt specific Cities like Des Moines from the Tax Levy, we should receive a specific annual rebate, equal to our contribution. That could be used to fund mitigation efforts that are desperately needed. (I am not picking on Mr. Felleman, here. He just happened to bring up something I would’ve said anyhow.)

The Tax Levy will never sell in Des Moines. But a rebate that addresses airport impacts most definitely would. We’re not unwilling to pay our fair share. Fair being the important adjective.

Thanks,

—JC

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