As the Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority crafts the details about the group that will succeed it, a fundamental question looms: Which properties are going to be in the new tri-county flood-control zone district?
Members seem settled on the concept of including all the land – from flood plain to hilltop – inside the Chehalis Basin, which stretches across parts of Thurston, Lewis and Grays Harbor counties. Existing voting precincts would be split, if necessary, to include only areas of the precinct that are inside the basin.
The decision would discourage a precinct tax because a small portion might touch the boundaries of the basin, or having a precinct plucked out because a small portion of it might be outside the basin.
How the flood-control zone district will be linked also is still being decided. The flood authority seemingly has two options. One would create a separate government entity that would span the three counties; the other would link created zones in each county to one another through agreements.
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“The big difference between the two is one allows two or more counties to create a separate government entity that has boundaries that overlap the county, and it can tax,” said Hugh Spitzer, an attorney working with the authority’s hired consultant, FCS Group. “The other is really meant to be a creature of other government entities. It’s a fancy kind of interlocal cooperation, and it cannot tax.”
Not all parties are sold on the idea of joining a basin-wide partnership. Thurston County commissioners still are discussing and reviewing whether they want to be included in a new flood-control zone district.
“We are concerned about some of the solutions that are being offered by Lewis County,” said Thurston County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela, specifically plans to build two earthen dams on the upper Chehalis River.
“We don’t want to be tied to and pay for something that we don’t agree with.”
A potential kink in the group’s ability to collect taxes comes from a limit on how much property tax can be collected. Flood-control zone districts are near the bottom of the priority list when it comes to property taxes, and everyone in the basin must be taxed at the same rate. Put those two aspects of the law together and the reality is that if even a single one of the dozens of precincts within the basin is heavily taxed and has only, say, 10 cents available under the cap to work with, the entire basin could be taxed only at that 10-cent rate.
If the basin-wide flood-control zone district did tax at the maximum rate allowed, 50 cents per thousand dollars of assessed value, it is estimated that it would receive $3 million to $4 million annually.
The authority has been charged by the state Legislature to create a successor group by the middle of next year, one of the many stipulations placed on the group when the state re-appropriated funding so the authority could continue its work.