Roads, housing and taxes were the themes of the San Juan Chamber of Commerce’s quarterly luncheon at Brickworks on Jan. 30.
“We love what we do and we love promoting our businesses,” Chamber Executive Director Becki Day said.
After a brief introduction, San Juan County Councilman Bill Watson and County Auditor Milene Henley gave presentations regarding the status of the county.
Watson said the county will begin collecting on the new real estate excise tax this year that was voted on in November. The REET is a one-time tax on one-half of one percent on property sold in the county and will be devoted to affordable housing. Buyers are responsible for 99 percent of it while sellers pay 1 percent.
The county is currently working on redesigning the connector road, Bill explained. The road will divert traffic off of the narrow Warbass Road to a new street from Turn Point to Pear Point roads.
Watson added that the county is also planning to widen of the road from False Bay to American Camp to allow for cyclists on the shoulder are more projects that the county is working on this year.
Watson said that council has been working with Legislators to get increased funding for ferries and safe shipping. He added that there are mandates in Gov. Jay Inslee’s orca recovery efforts that not funded by the state that have been put in place that the county will have to find funding for it in its budget. One such requirement is to remove culverts from all salmon spawning areas, however, the local government will be responsible for doing this. He showed frustration with unfunded mandates.
“If they’re going to tell us what to do, they should give us money to fund it,” he said.
Henley spoke on the county’s finances in 2018 and what to expect in the upcoming year.
“We’re growing incredibly dependant as a county on sales tax,” she said.
She spoke on the slow and steady increase of tax revenue over the past decade but she said she expects 2019 to be a tight one for the county. According to Henley, 2019 may be the first year since 2011 that the county’s general fund budget isn’t met with tax revenue. But she wanted everyone to take that prediction with a grain of salt.
“I am not an economist, I’m an accountant,” she said jokingly. “I read the numbers, not the leaves.”