No opposition to Sound Transit boundary fix proposal

OLYMPIA — There appears to be little political opposition to resolving a dilemma faced by Snohomish County homeowners who didn’t get to vote on Sound Transit’s latest expansion plan yet are getting taxed to help pay for it.

No one showed up Thursday when the House Transportation Committee considered a bill that would bar Sound Transit from imposing a property tax on anything less than a whole parcel of property.

House Bill 1958 would be retroactive to Nov. 1, 2016. This would ensure owners of an estimated 50 parcels in Snohomish County that are partly inside and partly outside the Sound Transit district won’t have to pay the transit agency tax.

Rep. Mark Harmsworth, R-Mill Creek, drew up the bill after learning of the problem from a constituent affected by the situation. The Snohomish County Council is backing the bill.

“It really just cleans up the existing law,” he said. “For these 50 property owners it’s important because they didn’t get to vote on it and they have to pay for it.”

The lines for Sound Transit’s district generally follow city limits or urban-growth boundaries in unincorporated areas in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties. In Snohomish County, the affected properties are on the outskirts of Everett, Snohomish, Mill Creek and Bothell. Some are in neighborhoods developed after the borders for Sound Transit were drawn in 1996.

This is a new situation for Sound Transit and the assessors in the three counties because the transit agency has never imposed a property tax until now. It gets to do so as a result of passage of Sound Transit 3 in November. That ballot measure included increases in the sales tax and vehicle registration fees plus the new property tax to support some $53.8 billion in projects.

When the Snohomish County assessor sent out the 2017 property tax bills, several home owners who did not have the measure on their ballot were surprised to learn a sliver of their property is within the transit district.

A Sound Transit spokesman said Thursday the agency doesn’t oppose the legislation.

If it became law, spokesman Geoff Patrick said the affected parcels would be excluded from the property tax but the district boundaries would not change.

“It’s not something that has a big impact financially,” he said.

Snohomish County Assessor Linda Hjelle said Thursday she is “on board with supporting a solution that provides clarity in the law.”

As the legislation is now written, it would require a recalculating of taxes due for each of those parcels, she said. If a property owner pays their bill and then the law is changed they could be due a refund, she said.

Meanwhile, in Olympia, the transportation committee chairwoman said after Thursday’s hearing that she sees no reason not to move the bill.

“I’ve had nobody talk to me about it,” said Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island. “The fact is they didn’t get to vote on it (ST3) so it’s probably a good thing to pass.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; Twitter: @dospueblos

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