News

County reels in tax break

With nearly $1 million in its pockets, Island County is in a quandary of what to do with it.

The money comes from a .08 percent tax rebate the county is eligible for under a Washington state program to aid rural counties’ economic growth. The county is designing criteria to decide which projects to fund with the money.

“This is a sales tax Washington made available to rural counties to develop the infrastructure to benefit economic development,” Island County Planning Director Phil Bakke said.

The county must use the funds to finance public facilities that serve economic development purposes in rural counties. Projects such as sewage systems, transportation or port facilities all qualify under the program.

Island County became eligible for the funds in 2001 when it was classified as a rural county. It received this classification because it is less than 225 square miles in size.

Sharon Hart, executive director of the Island County’s Economic Development Council, said the funds are necessary to support the county’s growth.

“We find it really important to work with this,” Hart said. “There’s limited infrastructure dollars out there and this is an opportunity for the county.”

The county now needs to establish an advisory committee to assist in program development and implementation, Bakke said. The committee would recommend the process for deciding which projects should receive funding, he said.

Some of the projects in Island County that could receive funding are the Freeland sewer system and using a portion for an expansion of Oak Harbor’s sewer district, Bakke said.

“Ultimately, we want to encourage these projects to take place in areas of the county that are projected to be economic centers,” Bakke said.

Hart said the county has a definitive need for the funding, which amasses approximately $500,000 per year. The Freeland project alone could use all of the money, she said.

“There is a huge need for infrastructure development, and very few dollars to do it,” Hart said.

The money is taken from the sales and use tax. The county is eligible to receive a rebate of .08 percent each year. Hart said this is part of why it is so important to buy locally.

In order to use the funds, the county must review the economic development portion of its comprehensive plan, Bakke said. The county would like to use the funds for projects that are already in the comprehensive plan, he added.

“The direction right now is to come up with a few options of how to rank the projects,” Bakke said.

You can reach News-Times reporter Eric Berto at eberto@whidbeynewstimes.com

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