County Executive’s budget: Water Taxi property-tax increase for ‘stable funding’; Guardian 1 may be permanently grounded

(Sunday photo by Robert Spears)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

So far we’ve found two big items of interest in King County Executive Dow Constantine‘s two-year budget proposal, made public this morning.

*The King County Water Taxi, serving West Seattle and Vashon, would have a “stable source” of funding – 1.25 cents per $1,000 valuation. The levy was reduced in 2009 and “reserves” have been used since then, but, says the budget book, “those reserves are now exhausted.”

*The King County Air Support Unit, including this area’s only law-enforcement helicopter Guardian One, will be shut down by 2018 unless, Constantine says, there’s tax reform. In 2017 it would be limited to search-and-rescue operations in King County; in 2018, it would be shut down entirely.

First, the Water Taxi toplines, from the 753-page full budget document:

*The county currently has been taxing for the passenger-ferry service at a third of a cent per $1,000 of assessed property valuation. That funding has been supplemented by reserves that the budget says have run out. Constantine proposes increasing the tax rate to 1.25 cents per $1,000 starting next year because the service is “no longer able to draw on reserves to stay afloat.” (Math = $2/year now if your property is assessed at $600,000; just under $8/year with the increase.) Without that increase, next year wouldrun $3 million short. The gap already has been narrowed, the budget book points out, by “efficiencies” enabling the new boats to be operated with a crew of 3 rather than 4.

(added 6:53 pm) King County DOT spokesperson Jeff Switzer sent this clarification:

Taxes won’t be going up as a result of this budget.

The collected property tax amount will stay the same, meaning the county will reduce the property tax collected for Metro by just over $9 million, and the property tax collected for Water Taxi (Marine) will be increased by just over $9 million. No net dollar increase in property tax collections for marine/transit.

The budget calls for another fare increase in 2018, 50 cents for adults, to continue its every-two-year increases.

And one more major Water Taxi note – while there’s no money for it in this two-year budget, there is a line item to “plan, design, and construct a new West Seattle (Water Taxi) terminal during the 2019-2010 budget cycle,” noting that Seacrest has always been meant as just a “temporary” terminal.

*Next, the helicopter elimination, which is just one of several major public-safety cuts in the county executive’s budget, explained in the news release about the budget, with a call for “local tax reform”:

… King County’s General Fund primarily supports criminal justice and other functions required by the state. About 59 percent of net General Fund revenues come from property taxes. The balance is comprised of sales tax and other sources.

In 2007, legislators reinstated Tim Eyman’s I-747, which had been tossed out by the state Supreme Court. The law arbitrarily limited revenue growth in most property taxes to 1 percent annually. The value of new construction is added to the tax base, which amounts to about 0.5 percent to 2.0 percent depending on the economy.

Because property tax is limited below the rate of population growth and inflation, the General Fund is chronically stressed. Last year, about 37,000 people moved to King County, adding to the demands for transit, behavioral and mental health programs, public safety, and other services.

Over the last few months, Executive Constantine worked with the Office of Performance, Strategy, and Budget, county departments, and elected officials to balance the $1.6 billion General Fund budget. Through a mix of revenue changes, efficiencies, and spending reductions, Executive Constantine resolved a $22.4 million shortfall.

Program cuts and service reductions in this budget include:

*Reductions in the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

*Closing the work release facility and electronic home detention programs by Jan. 1, 2018.

*Eliminating inmate booking at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent as of Jan. 1, 2018.

*Eliminating the King County Sheriff’s Office air support and marine units by Jan. 1, 2018.

“We will do everything we can to mitigate the impact of these cuts, but let there be no mistake — unless the Legislature fixes the problem, these reductions will only get worse over time,” said Executive Constantine. “And local governments across the state face the identical situation.”

While Guardian One is operated by King County, it is the only helicopter available for regional law-enforcement agencies including Seattle Police.

We’re still reading the county budget and will report on anything else of direct local interest. It now will go through a review-and-comment process in the weeks ahead – find the details here. Our area’s County Councilmember is Joe McDermott, so if you have something to say about these issues or others in the budget, you can e-mail him at

33 Replies to "County Executive's budget: Water Taxi property-tax increase for 'stable funding'; Guardian 1 may be permanently grounded"

  • Trickycoolj September 26, 2016 (1:10 pm)

    I just got an 18% assessment increase for a 33% cumulative increase over the last 3 years. How much more do they need? Not everyone has a dual income household on a tech salary. 

    • WSB September 26, 2016 (1:40 pm)

      In the case of the Water Taxi tax – if your house/etc. is currently assessed at $600,000, you are paying $2/year for the Water Taxi. The increase would bring that to just under $8/year.

    • Question Mark September 28, 2016 (7:56 pm)

      Luckily for you, assessments are increasing all over Seattle. Increases in property tax aren’t directly related to assessed value, though. Your share of total tax goes up only if the value of your property increases faster than the average in each of the taxing districts your property sits in. Of course, additional levies do increase taxes tax-district-wide, so the result of what caused a change in total tax due year-to-year is often complicated …

  • wseakell September 26, 2016 (1:38 pm)

    I’m not trying to be snarky with this question; I honestly just don’t know: what are they doing with all of the new taxes/money being collected from legalized marijuana?  Isn’t it a boat load of new money that can go to some of these things they feel like they’re “running out of money for”?

    • WSB September 26, 2016 (1:49 pm)

      A couple of regional news organizations have reported on that. Short answer, according to this report, none was earmarked for local government in the original initiative, but that’s changed – a bit – not much.

    • Question Mark September 28, 2016 (8:27 pm)

      Although state taxes on $461,657,187 in marijuana sales in the state’s fiscal year 2016 (which ended June 30) are just over $161 million at the rate of 35% on each retail sale, the legislature has agreed to share only $6 million with cities and counties statewide. King County’s share in FY 2016 was just under $1 million. I believe the WSLCB has tried to post the shared amount for 2017, but the link on their site is currently broken. The MRSC calculator online estimates just over $445,000 for 2017 which would be less than half the 2016 total if that estimate is correct.

      In addition, there is great concern over the county’s land use zoning that now prohibits retail marijuana stores in the unincorporated area where the greatest population now lives, and has concentrated more than 83% of these stores in two urban communities–White Center and Skyway that have less than 14% of unincorporated population. At the same time Best Starts For Kids is being budgeted with a focus area to create “Environments that limit [youth] exposure to dangerous products and substances” such as marijuana, King County has allowed 6 times the concentration of marijuana stores in these two communities that even Seattle has now. So, many in these communities would like to see some mitigation for the additional impact that stores bring to a community with that concentration of stores.

      One council member, Jeanne Kohl-Welles has proposed that some marijuana excise tax shared with King County be used to create a new program within the Seattle-King County Department of Health for testing marijuana sold in King County for potentially dangerous pesticide residues.

      In the context of a county budget that is over $5.6 billion per year, and General Fund revenue that averages $800 million per year even a million dollars would be only a small increase — much less than a 1% increase in revenue even for the lesser General Fund revenue amount …

  • ScubaFrog September 26, 2016 (1:39 pm)

    Guardian One is a necessity.  I can’t believe of all the things they want to cut – they want to shrink our already small law enforcement capabilities.  Unbelievable.  But they’ll spend 10’s of millions on a new precinct, and millions on some failed bike share program via insider politics.

    I’ve never been fond of Constantine, and one day we’ll get it right on mayors. 

    • Question Mark September 28, 2016 (8:42 pm)

      My understanding is that the county’s current General Fund, which covers Guardian One and other Sheriff operations, was supplemented with one-time money that won’t be available in the next biennium, to the tune of $50 million dollars in reduced revenue for that fund over the next 2 years. The Sheriff was asked earlier to cut $3.8 million, or $1.9 million per year on average, from his next budget.

      The sheriff has asked for support from cities around the county for Guardian One, for which they have not contributed funding in the past. Last I heard, none has stepped forward to provide any.

      Seattle alone, not King County, is responsible for the new North Precinct and the bike share operations they purchased earlier this year. You’ll have to take those up with the mayor and city council …

  • Fiwa Jcbbb September 26, 2016 (1:49 pm)

    I’ll second that. Property taxes are getting up around “whole paycheck” for those of us living “paycheck to paycheck” who’ve been here long enough to not be able to afford to live where we live if we were starting out now. The response (not in so many words) from local politicians and (in far unkinder words)from posters on the Seattle Transit Initiative Facebook page to our complaints about Washington’s Most-Regressive-In-The-Land tax status seems to be “If you can’t afford it get the #*&$ out”.   No, I don’t want “Republicans”. Is it ridiculous to hope for someone in higher office who can prioritize between things we need (dedicated-line rapid transit) and things we don’t ($137K a year for a “Director of Homelessness”?), and that taxing people regardless of income on the market value of their primary residence is just plain evil? 

  • Mickymse September 26, 2016 (1:53 pm)

    The government has not increased your property taxes by 33% over the last three years. Neither have voters. Now, if your property VALUE has been increasing by ~9% or more over each of the last three years, you have a pretty good idea of what is fueling most of that increase. And, if you actually own your home, that means that’s VALUE going into your own personal investment — and not government spending.

    • Mickymse September 26, 2016 (1:55 pm)

      That should read “increased your property tax assessment” in the first sentence. Obviously, the taxes have gone up.

    • chemist September 26, 2016 (2:06 pm)

      Which assessments in King County go up faster, property in Seattle or property in Wabash ?  While their bill from the county might not rise the same as property value (it’s all relative) the places that rise faster will be seeing increases.

    • AMD September 26, 2016 (7:39 pm)

      We just got our new assessment and it was 21.4% higher than last year.  I can believe 33% over three years.  It’s still well below what the property is worth, but getting closer.  I know the property value doesn’t mean anything to a homeowner until they cash out, but on the other hand I don’t think it makes sense for the county to continually assess based on what a house was worth 30+ years ago when it last sold.

  • KT September 26, 2016 (2:41 pm)

    Certainly in Seattle I scratch my head over the fact that construction is at an all time high adding to the property tax rolls, property valuations are at an all time high adding to the tax receipts, yet Seattle needs levy after levy to provide some pretty basic services on top of their “progressive” agenda items.  I guess it all depends on what your priorities are.  I will be looking to vote for someone next time who shares mine.   

  • Over taxed September 26, 2016 (2:54 pm)

    The 1.8 million dollars collected for the illegal tree cutting will help with expenses. Now if he can hire a director of illegal tree cutting to go around and find more violators I think these tax increases will be unnecessary 

    • ELLY September 26, 2016 (3:30 pm)

      Spoken like your typical selfish view-seeking tree cutter.

  • WSJoe September 26, 2016 (3:58 pm)

    Increases in property values are not realized unless you SELL your home.  If you sell your home, then great, you might recognize an increase in those property values.  But if you don’t sell, or don’t intend to sell, then all it is is a suck on paychecks.  Which are not increasing as fast as tax increases.

  • South Delridge Gal September 26, 2016 (4:26 pm)

    I never thought I’d say this but I’ll miss the ghetto bird. How else will we know there is an armed and dangerous person in our hood? Not to mention its when a lot of ping WSB to report the ghetto bird or look at Crime Watch. 

  • Mike H September 26, 2016 (4:47 pm)

    Wow.  Just wow.

    This appears to be a classic political move.  Fund an item which, while useful for a number of people, duplicates other services, but defund an item which is a basic function of government to get more tax dollars.  We should not lose services to help law enforcement to facilitate a nice trip across the bay.

  • Chuck September 26, 2016 (4:47 pm)

    Is the all-vital bike share project safe??!! You know, priorities and all that. ‘Cause that helicopter just makes noise and burns fossil fuels, anyway…

    I cannot wait until this buffoon is up for re-election.

    • WSB September 26, 2016 (5:02 pm)

      This is the county budget. Totally separate from the city. County has no bike shares. City has no helicopter. Confusion likely stemming from both releasing their budgets today.

      • sam-c September 26, 2016 (6:07 pm)

        And off topic, but along the same lines of City budget and County budget…. but whose idea was it to have the governor debate after the presidential debate? I don’t think i can watch another debate after this show.  or maybe that was their plan………

  • Mark September 26, 2016 (4:56 pm)

    Seattle property tax bills are amongst the highest in the country now.  Yes the rate is modest but valuations are high that make the tax bill high

    Time to look at other source of funding, a tax on sugar would be good

  • Jim Clark September 26, 2016 (4:58 pm)

    So the precedent was set back when Medic 1 used to be a normal budget item. Then they said if you want to continue medic 1 you have to pay extra taxes to save the service. Since then it seems to be a ploy to raise taxes every year. It is always we don’t have enough money for this and that but if you will raise your taxes we can save the service. Time to live within your own means. I know for sure there are a lot of King county employees that make w very nice living.

  • Double Dub Resident September 26, 2016 (5:07 pm)

    Meanwhile the government is giving away free cell phones at, yes that’s real.  We have a this failed “great bike project”,  we spend $500,000 on some red paint to tell us that it’s a bus lane,  $66,000 for a dozen or so rainbow curbs.  

    Now we’re entertaining building some housing so people can do their Heroin,  opening up parks to essential legal homeless encampments and we are paying these people high wages to come up with these idiotic ideas  all the while the lead attorney for the DOJ has a $2,000 a day salary  and a homeless czar making $150,000 annually.  

    This city wastes so much money.  For example it essentially double dips financially by having this entity called Fleet charging  city  departments all kinds of charges from renting police cars to police to renting parking space to city officials etc.  And charging ridiculous amounts of money.  

  • KM September 26, 2016 (5:07 pm)

    I think there’s some confusion here among positions, budgets and spending, and possibly because both the city and county budgets came out today. Dow is not a mayor, and the bike share is a city program. The Director of Homelessness is a city position. The city filed the lawsuit for the tree cutting. 

    I definitely understand the critique of local government spending. I think a proper understanding of who does what and why is important part of implementing change.

    • WSB September 26, 2016 (5:25 pm)

      We have a SEPARATE story about the city budget, which came out hours later, here:

      I’ve spent much of today reading through the actual basic documents of both, NOT the prepared speeches or spin sheets that have been sent to us and the rest of the media. I’ve also included the links so that you can do the same if interested. Both government entities have online pages where the full budget doc is linked (hint: if there is a term you’re looking for, use “find” in your browser to navigate through!) as well as section by section. – TR

  • Eric1 September 26, 2016 (5:40 pm)

    I guess I am too pragmatic.  Median income in Seattle is about $72,000 or $6,000 per month working out to $3,000 a paycheck. Average property tax is $3800 so yes, it is a paycheck a month (The Feds probably refunds you $800 if you itemize just to simplify). So if you are an average family in an average house, you are just like everyone else spending 4% of your income on property taxes. Lower income usually means a smaller house and lower taxes while higher income families can afford 1.8M in fines. It all works out. If property taxes were that onerous, more people would leave the city than move in.  But alas, population growth is a major concern. 


    My guess is that most people in Seattle like living in a progressive city with high taxes.  It isn’t a secret that progressive cities are not really low-income friendly despite the progressive image. But apparently the benefits that come along with the high cost of living keeps people here. Perhaps eventually only “rich” people will live here but why would you want to remain in Seattle after retirement? Everyone complains about the changes and how they miss the old days. I plan to cash out and live somewhere else that resembles “yesterday” smiling all the way to the bank

  • Chris September 26, 2016 (6:10 pm)

    Yet they keep on insisting on putting in bus bulbs, changing road markings and unnecessary stuff.   Makes no sense.

    • WSB September 26, 2016 (6:53 pm)

      I’m adding this to the main story above too but, a clarification from King County DOT spokesperson Jeff Switzer re: the Water Taxi tax rate – it’s a shuffle away from Metro’s side of the budget and into the Marine Division side:

      Taxes won’t be going up as a result of this budget.

      The collected property tax amount will stay the same, meaning the county will reduce the property tax collected for Metro by just over $9 million, and the property tax collected for Water Taxi (Marine) will be increased by just over $9 million. No net dollar increase in property tax collections for marine/transit.

  • Jules October 5, 2016 (12:06 pm)

    Why is cutting public safety always the first place that they start when it comes to budget cuts? With everything going on in this city with regard to crime, drug use and homelessness is that really the best idea? We need to be adding to it not cutting it!!

    How about we stop spending the mandatory 1% of city capital improvement projects on artwork and put it into our police and criminal justice programs. I know one percent sounds small, but when you’re talking about millions of dollars in projects, the price tag can be huge. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m willing to sacrafice a mural painted on the side wall of a city dump or a sculpture in front of a courthouse to keep citizens safe. Its funny, they have dollars designated to beautify the city with sculptures and other various “pretty things.” And all the while have garbage and tents all over our streets and greenbelts. Talk about painting a turd!

    Why are cuts always made to fire departments and police? I know there’s some more bureaucratic bloat in other departments that are way less important than police and fire safety. They should be cut first! Just my honest opinion.

    • WSB October 5, 2016 (12:31 pm)

      Just to be clear again, this is the county budget, not the city budget. Two totally different governments, budgets, different revenue sources. Seattle is not making criminal-justice cuts.

  • Jules October 5, 2016 (12:48 pm)

    Oops. My bad. 

    😒 (shuffles off stage) lol

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