Croker Sack

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." — Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956)

Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Tale of Two Port Districts

The Port of Bremerton avoided having to win voter approval of a tax increase by doing the minimum required by law to notify the public, but the Port of Vancouver must obtain voter approval of an identical new property tax levy.

According to a piece on the opinion page of the Port Orchard Independent:

Then, at their Jan. 10, 2006, meeting, Huntington and the other two commissioners voted to direct the staff to publish a legal notice stating their intention to levy higher taxes.

The legal notice of intent to levy a tax increase in 2007 through 2012, starting at a rate of 45 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, was published in the Kitsap Sun on Jan. 12, 2006.

That legal notice supplied the starting point for a period of time within which taxpayers residing in the district could have forced the port commissioners to put the new property tax on the ballot for the voters to decide whether it would be levied.

If, within 90 days after publication of the legal notice, a petition had been submitted to the county auditor containing a sufficient number of signatures, then the port commissioners could not have levied the higher property tax without approval by a majority of voters.

Is it any wonder, then, that the commissioners chose not to issue any press releases or otherwise alert the public about their plans?

Apparently no one who was inclined to act on it read the legal notice of intent, so no petition drive was mounted -- and the taxpayers learned of the 150 percent tax increase when their 2007 tax bills arrived in February.

Down in Vancouver, Washington, it's a different story. The Port of Vancouver issued a press release announcing their intent to levy the higher tax. As reported by the Clark County Auditor's office, a successful petition drive required the port commission to obtain voter approval of the tax increase (or forget about it):

On Monday, May 7, 2007, the sponsors of a petition to require a public vote on the Port of Vancouver Industrial Development District levy, approved by the Port District Commission on February 5, 2007, submitted their petition of 635 pages containing 11,484 signatures to the Clark County Auditor’s Office. An additional 38 petition pages containing 418 signatures were submitted after Monday, May 7 but prior to the May 10, 5 PM deadline for submitting petition signatures. This resulted in a total of 673 petition pages containing 11,502 signatures being submitted.

To be considered sufficient, the petition is required to have a number of valid signatures equal to or greater than eight percent (8%) of the total number of ballots cast by Vancouver Port District registered voters in the last gubernatorial election, which occurred on November 2, 2004. At that election, 114,072 ballots were cast in the Vancouver Port District. Eight percent or at least 9,126 registered voters in the Port District would need to sign the petition in order for it to be sufficient and require a public vote on the levy measure at the August 21, 2007 primary election.

On Monday, May 14, 2007 the Clark County Auditor’s Office halted the canvassing and verification of the petition signatures. A total of 11,321 petition signatures had been canvassed at that time. A total of 9,659 of the signatures canvassed were verified as being the valid signatures of voters currently residing in the Vancouver Port District. As a result of exceeding the 9,126 number of required signatures, the petition was certified as sufficient. The certification of sufficiency of this petition will now be submitted to the Vancouver Port District Commission for their action of calling for a special election for the voters of the district to approve or reject the Industrial Development District levy.

In the primary election held this August, voters in the Vancouver port district will decide whether to approve a higher tax; while those in the Bremerton port district will decide whether the only commissioner up for re-election (Mary Ann Huntington) ought to be returned to office after the end of this term.

That's quite a difference.

And it's apparently all due to the fact that no one who thought the new tax was newsworthy had been watching the Port of Bremerton commissioners closely enough.

I wonder who knew what the Port of Bremerton commissioners intended to do back when it was still possible to stop them. (If the Kitsap Sun news staff paid any attention to legal notices published by government entities in their own newspaper, they would have known. Did they?)

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