The Thurston Public Utility District’s countywide property tax levy was a key topic of discussion between District 3 candidates Chris Stearns and Dennis Pulsipher during a candidate forum Wednesday morning.
Incumbent Commissioner Stearns and challenger Pulsipher were guests for one in a series of candidate forums hosted by Gateway Rotary, a service club.
Gateway Rotary gathers at O’Blarney’s Irish Pub in Olympia.
Former Olympia mayor and Rotarian Doug Mah organized the forum, and posed his own questions, plus those from fellow Rotarians. The District 3 candidates also got a chance to ask each other a question.
One Rotarian asked whether the candidates plan to eliminate taxes on Thurston County residents.
“I’ve been thinking about stepping back on the assessments,” said Stearns, who is running for another six-year term as a PUD commissioner.
“(PUD) staff doesn’t find it very popular,” he said about the times when he has expressed that opinion, “because it’s an easy source of revenue that they can raise 1 percent a year.”
Pulsipher, a former Thurston County deputy assessor and the current chief appraiser for the King County Department of Assessments, took a different tack.
“I’m willing to accept as a property owner to pay a certain amount each year to ensure that people have access to clean, affordable drinking water,” Pulsipher said.
People in cities get clean drinking water, and it’s important that people using PUD water systems in more rural areas get it as well, he said.
“I”m willing to pay for it,” he said about the property tax levy.
The PUD, a water utility, manages more than 150 water systems and has more than 3,000 customers. Its largest system serves the Tanglewilde area of the county, which is near Lacey.
The PUD also has the lowest property tax levy in the county, which is about a penny per $1,000 of assessed value for 2014. A homeowner with a home valued at $250,000 paid about $2.50 this year. The levy is projected to raise about $260,000 for the PUD, which is just under 10 percent of its budget, PUD data show.
Pulsipher also asked Stearns about a proposal he made last summer to roll back the property tax levy for 2015. Pulsipher wondered how that would benefit the PUD and its customers.
Stearns defended his position as a way toprotect citizens from levy increases and make sure that the PUD can one day operate from the rates paid by PUD customers.
“They need to run on their own,” he said.
Stearns won the four-person primary in August, and Pulsipher was the runner-up.
Stearns has so far raised about $5,400 for his campaign, while Pulsipher has raised about $6,200, state Public Disclosure Commission data show.