By Erica C. Barnett
The King County Regional Policy Committee—a group of regional leaders that makes policy recommendations to the King County Council—voted narrowly on Monday to put off a decision about the size of the Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services Levy proposal, which will be on the ballot in August, until after Tuesday’s vote on a countywide behavioral health-care levy.
The crisis centers levy, which is currently winning by a 10-point margin, will create five new behavioral health crisis centers and fund new residential mental health care beds. A wide margin of victory for the crisis centers levy could provide a gauge of voters’ appetite for new taxes to fund human services; the last time the veterans’ levy was renewed, in 2017, it passed with 69 percent of the vote. The levy pays for housing, domestic violence prevention, senior centers, and supportive services for low-income and homeless veterans, seniors, and other King County residents.
The debate for the RPC and the county council itself comes down to how large the levy should be. Some committee members representing the suburban Sound Cities Association, including Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus, supported renewing the levy at the current rate of 10 cents per $1,000 of property value, which Backus called a “true renewal,” rather than raising it to 12 cents, as the county council’s budget committee recommended last week.
Others, including King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci, who represents Bellevue, said a higher rate would help offset inflation, which has eroded the impact of the levy. “A straight rollover—even though, because of the way property tax calculations work, it would generate more dollars—… would not keep pace with the needs, and in fact we would be falling behind,” Balducci said.
Last week, after what Balducci called a “robust discussion,” the county council’s budget committee recommended boosting the initial levy in light of analysis showing that thanks to inflation, a flat renewal at the 10-cent level will significantly reduce the amount of housing the levy will build, and force outright cuts to housing operations and rental assistance.
Renewing the levy at the original, 10-cent initial level would cost the owner of a median (in 2024), $838,000 home just under $84 a year—an increase of about $17 a year from the current levy, whose rate has declined over time as property values have skyrocketed. (By law, the amount of funding the levy produces can only increase by 3.5 percent a year, so property value growth higher than that rate results in a reduction to the “effective rate” of the tax, which is currently just over 8 percent.) At that rate, the levy will raise about $564 million over six years.
A 12-cent rate, for comparison, would cost the same homeowner about $100 a year and raise around $678 million a year.
In previous levy discussions, opponents of a larger levy have suggested the higher levy could overburden homeowners who are struggling to make ends meet. In an RPC meeting earlier this month, Backus said, “I fear tax fatigue, and I want to make sure that both of these levies pass. I would love to see them go higher. But I just don’t think right now is the time when so many people are struggling.”
The RPC will hold a special meeting on Friday afternoon to vote on the levy, and the county council is scheduled to vote on a final ballot measure at its meeting Monday.
2 thoughts on “Will Voter Approval of Crisis Centers Spur a More Ambitious Vets and Human Services Levy?”
I’d be curious when the 2017 levy was voted – if an April vote is comparable? A ten point lead feels slim for Seattle!
The “10 point lead” is for all of King County, which is the $1.25 Billion measure we just voted on. I’m sure we’ll see vote break-downs by cities, legislative districts, and precincts very soon. And yes, a 10-point margin would be slim for Seattle, but when taking all of King County into account, it’s a big margin.