Bremerton Voters Could Block Property Tax Increase (But Not the Rate Hike)November 20th, 2009 by Steven Gardner
Anyone who would want to overturn Bremerton’s potential spending increases should contact city and other sources for specifics about the rules for a referendum. What we have here are the basics as I understand them.
Here’s the outline:
- If you want to start a referendum on the city council’s decision to have the city’s utilities pay more to the general fund, you can. You can kill that.
- Should the council decide to raise rates at its meeting on Dec. 2, your referendum will have no impact on that. Your rates will still go up.
- If you want to start a referendum on the property tax increase the council passed, you can.
The points here were the result of a conversation I had with Roger Lubovich, city attorney. I had also called the Municipal Research and Services Center, which looks into laws for cities. Lubovich and I talked Wednesday night after the meeting. At that point he was under the correct impression on the first two points, but said he thought there was no referendum possible on the property tax. After looking into it further and talking about it with a representative at MRSC, he determined Thursday the property tax measure actually is eligible for referendum.
Point One: The state treats the payment in lieu of taxes, aka PILOT, like it treats a business and occupation tax. Someone can file a referendum with the city clerk within seven days of the ordinance passing, which was Wednesday. The clerk and the petitioner have 10 days to confer over a petition. The petitioner then has 30 days to gather signatures of 15 percent of registered voters.
Point Two: Perhaps the most puzzling part of this issue is that if you have a referendum on the Pilot, it has absolutely no bearing on the rates. You could kill the transfer of funds from city utilities to the general fund, but all it would mean is the utility service would be able to keep the money.
Point Three: Based on my read of what’s in the city charter (Section 34) and the state law it references, a referendum on the property tax hike would roughly follow the same rules as the one on the PILOT, except you might need signatures from 25 percent of registered voters.
The property tax measure represents a $111,761 difference in what the city would have collected had the council not approved a “declaration of substantial need.”
State law allows the city to get 1 percent more each year in property tax collections, assuming inflation is at least that high. This year there was deflation of slightly less than 1 percent, so the city would actually have to collect less.
The question affects collections for years to come, because whatever the city collects this year is what it will base next year’s collections on, and so on.