Island County's utility tax proposal comes at a tough time | Editorial

The Island County commissioners are displaying bravery — or foolhardiness, depending on one’s point of view — in considering implementing a new utility tax to benefit clean water projects.

It hardly needs to be pointed out that the economy is in the tank, household incomes are down or flat, and citizens have just been hit by a bevy of new taxes levied by the state Legislature on everything from business income to beer, cigarettes, pop and candy.

The best argument aired to date in favor of the utility tax on property parcels is that it would do away with the highly unpopular $62 septic fee for homeowners who follow the new septic system inspection law and dutifully certify their standard septic system is functioning properly every three years (more often for alternative systems). The problem with that is it’s the septic inspection law itself that is unpopular, and the most expensive part is the inspection fee, not the county’s $62 recording fee. So regardless of any action taken on a clean water tax, the septic inspection program will remain highly unpopular with only a fraction of homeowners complying with the letter of the law.

Of course, county officials have many high-minded reasons for considering a clean water utility tax bringing in a recommended $900,000 annually. There are salmon protection efforts that should be done, existing water-related ordinances that can’t be enforced due to lack of money, and the general desire to better protect our crown jewel called Puget Sound.

Nevertheless, this is an incredibly difficult time to be proposing a major new tax on property and the commissioners have a formidable sales job ahead of them if they decide to proceed. But if they proceed you have to give them credit for being brave, or perhaps foolhardy — particularly the one who’s up for election this fall.

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