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Construction creates jobs, taxes

Good news for taxing districts and people employed in the construction industry: The building business is still strong in Island County.

“It’s been climbing every year, there’s lots of growth,” said Island County Assessor Tom Baenen last week as he was finishing tabulating the amount of new construction over the last year, from June 2002 through June 2003.

Total construction for the period came to $155,671,000. “It was certainly a big year for the contractors in Island County,” Baenen said. “Almost all of it was residential.”

The total figure is up about $8 million from the prior year, which was also a good building year in the county, Baenen said. He was particularly impressed by growth on Camano Island, which topped all of Island County’s geographic areas with $48.2 million in new construction. Rural South Whidbey came in second at $43 million.

New construction is good news for taxing districts that depend on property taxes to provide such basics as fire, hospital, ambulance, education and county services. “There’s lots of new revenue for all of the county’s taxing districts,” Baenen said.

Growth in taxable properties helps offset the effects of Initiative 747, which limits property tax increases annually to 1 percent without a vote of the people. Baenen said the official government inflation figure for this year is 1.8 percent, so it’s obvious that without growth in construction, taxing districts would fall behind even more rapidly. “With a 1 percent max (on tax hikes) and inflation at almost 2 percent, you’re dropping behind,” he said.

The construction boom is also good for employment, keeping hundreds of carpenters, plumbers and landscapers busy year around. Wayne Crider, executive office of Skagit and Island Counties Builders Association, said its 487 member companies employ some 2,500 workers in the two-county region.

“We’re probably second as an industry to the Navy base,” Crider said.

Nationwide, the construction industry has remained strong despite the weak economy, and Crider said the same is true locally. “They’re staying busy,” he said of area contractors. “Some are so busy they don’t have time to turn around. On North Whidbey, buildings are going up all over the place.”

Roofing contractor Jay Hale, who owns Four Seasons Roofing with his wife Christi, was busy at Oak Harbor’s Cherry Hill development Friday, and he concurred with Crider’s assessment of the industry’s health.

“I’ve been here since ‘78 and I’ve never seen a boom like this,” Hale said, as his employees were nailing a roof in place. Over the last two years his company has averaged 120 to 140 roofing jobs each year. “The last two years have been record years for us,” he said. “I’m sure it’s the low interest rates.”

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