While a lot of attention is being addressed to the Seattle Sound Transit rip- off (increased tab fees based on MSRP) very little is being directed to an even bigger rip-off here at home in Kitsap. In one of the most brilliant and deceiving marketing campaigns, Kitsap Transit convinced 51 percent of Kitsap voters to support a sales tax increase to subsidize a fast foot ferry operating between Kitsap and Seattle. What was the promise and what is the reality?
First, the tax increase is estimated at about $12 million each year, but will grow as either prices increase, more money is spent on taxable items, or more items are moved into the taxable bracket. In reality, the total tax receipts will never go down (after all survival of the ferry is dependent on those monies). If you doubt the validity of that statement, please consider that we previously authorized a sales tax increase so we could have expanded and reliable bus transit throughout the county. How is that working out?
The “plus side promise” was economic growth in Kitsap County and less commuting time for our residents who worked on the other side of the “pond”. There was also a general promise of higher employment on the Seattle side because workers could get there easier. In reality, things are not working out so well. First, the commuters who benefit from the shorter commute are paying less than 20 percent of the bill. The taxpayers are picking up the other 80 percent (The ratio for the WDOT ferry is 70 percent fare, 30 percent subsidy). A round trip ride that should cost about $100 is going for $20 or less). The actual funds for the ferry operation will be spent in Seattle because a Seattle side firm has been contracted to operate and maintain the fleet. In case you were wondering, that means that the people engaged in fleet operations and maintenance will also probably live on the Seattle side. The first hire for the system was a six figure salary Marine Division Director. That is really nice money for a person to oversee a system that currently has one ferry run. More recently, Kitsap Transit is advertising for Three “Ambassadors” who apparently will be responsible to sort out the riders for each boat and collect tickets. At a potential $52,000 and year (plus generous benefits) those positions will be more lucrative than the mean income in the county. Expect a lot of people to apply for these windfall sweet positions. That accounts for a total of four jobs (at a very nice level of pay) for Kitsap. So where is this economic development we were promised?
Perhaps we can take a look at the potential to recover the tax cost by growth in the County. Currently the county receives $25 million in sales tax that goes into the general fund. The $12 Million that is separate for the Transit System (not in the County take) does represent a requirement for a 50 percent growth in the county tax revenue to make up for the transit tax. That can happen by a major (can you say huge) increase in retail sales of taxable items or a major increase in population. However, most of it will probably come in the form of increased property tax, Since 250,000 residents currently pay about $34 million in property tax each year(about $136 each) it will only take about 88,000 additional residents or about 22,000 new families to move to Kitsap to equal things out. Of course in order to entice that many new families to Kitsap would require a massive increase in the job market in the County. Since that has not worked very well for the last 15 years, there should be some doubt about the validity of the assumed economic growth.
The bottom line of the entire issue is that while we will have a subsidized fast ferry system that moves commuter to the Seattle side, there really is no actual positive fiscal impact for Kitsap County. Just one more really good deals sent our way by the people we elected to protect our individual rights and to look out for us. Just remember that TEA stands for “Taxed Enough Alredy” the next time some bureaucrat or politician comes up with another grand idea to foster economic growth in the county.
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