Paul Hughes: Council needs to consider property tax
July 14, 2017
The question of whether to permit and annex the Brynn Grey project will require the most impactful decision City Council will make during its tenure. There are several important points that it must consider.
1. We need more housing if the city is going to grow and prosper. That point has been well established.
2. There is not enough infill capacity to provide that housing, so we must look outside the city limits, expand the urban growth boundary,and annex that urban-density growth that meets our needs. The Brynn Grey project, among others, proposes to be that growth.
3. However, we cannot presently afford to annex even one more square foot or one additional house. Two analyses a few years ago showed that it costs the city thousands of dollars more annually to serve every residence than the occupants of that residence pay in sales taxes – essentially our only source of revenue.
4. If the city annexes a project such as Brynn Grey without having a way to help pay the ongoing costs of service, it will be making a truly dangerous financial decision – one that will have far-reaching and unfortunate consequences.
This is important, for while the city may require Brynn Grey to offset the capital impacts of its project, we currently have no way to provide for the substantial operating costs of serving such a project. So we find ourselves in the unhappy position of needing something important that we can't afford.
But there is an obvious solution: change the city's harmful, outdated and unfair tax system to one that will, at the same time, more equitably distribute the tax burden and provide a way for future growth to pay its way. Only a city property tax has the ability to do this.
I ask City Council to consider seriously that without asking the voters to reform our unproductive, unfair and unstable revenue stream, we will find ourselves returning to this frustrating impasse over and over again.
It is time to ask, not whether we need a better tax system, but how we should structure it. Following the suggestions in the so-called "Dissenting Opinion" of the 2011 Report of the Tax Policy Advisory Board would be an excellent start.