YAKIMA, Wash. — Property owners in Yakima County’s cities and towns will see an increase in their property taxes next year while those in the unincorporated area will pay a lower property tax bill, further fallout from ongoing financial woes in the county Department of Corrections.
County commissioners on Tuesday followed through with their plan to shift $3 million from the county road levy to the general fund to cover debt payments on three bond issues related to the jail operation, including construction debt on the new jail on Pacific Avenue that is closed.
The shift follows the failure of an August ballot measure to raise the sales tax by a tenth of a cent to pay those bonds.
Under the shift, effective Jan. 1, city residents will pay about 20 cents more per $1,000 of assessed value, or about $30 per year on a $150,000 home. County owners of a similarly valued home will experience a net decline in their rate by about 28 cents per $1,000 of value, or about $43 per year less.
The shift will remain in effect for a maximum of 10 years. Commissioners have said they will eliminate the shift should the county be able to sell the Pacific Avenue jail building and retire the remaining construction debt that otherwise won’t be paid off until 2022.
The other bond issues paid for remodeling a former bowling alley near the Valley Mall into a low-risk inmate holding facility and for security upgrades to the downtown jail. The Union Gap facility on South 18th Street no longer houses inmates and is being remodeled again for administrative space.
“We have no choice,” said Commissioner Mike Leita of the decision. “This is a vote I do not want to make and one that I do not embrace, but is necessary to reconcile issues” with in the jail operation.
Leita added that commissioners, along with jail Director Ed Campbell, are trying to attract new bed-rental clients that would infuse some much-needed revenue into the jail.
Jail revenues have fallen by $18 million since a group of King County cities in 2010 withdrew their rentals under a seven-year contract. The revenue loss forced the county to cut the jail budget by reducing staff and jail programs. The most recent jail budget cut of $1.2 million cost 11 jobs.
Commissioners this year transferred $1.6 million in revenue away from the sheriff, courts, prosecutor, clerk and public defense to cover a portion of the jail budget shortfall. Budget cuts to those departments will result in eight people losing their jobs by the end of this year.
County Engineer Gary Ekstedt and Public Services Director Vern Redifer have decided to cover the lost road tax money by reducing gravel road paving, dust abatement, weed control and grading, and eliminate the chip seal treatment on lesser-used local access roads. Vacant positions in Public Services won’t be filled and the county will have less money for construction of new roads.
“I expect the commissioners will receive calls in the spring when the roads are rough and dusty and some projects won’t be built,” Leita conceded.
• David Lester can be reached at 509-577-7674 or firstname.lastname@example.org.