On Wednesday, Dec. 15, the Snohomish County Council approved an increase to the countywide sales tax to fund affordable housing and behavioral health treatment programs. I had significant concerns with the proposal and the process that was used to bring it forward for consideration. In this month’s column, I will highlight my concerns and reasons I voted ‘no’ on the sales tax increase.  

In 2015, the Washington State Legislature authorized local governments to impose a 1/10 of 1 percent sales tax increase for housing-related services with a vote of the people. This meant that a County Council or City Council could place a ballot measure before the voters and it had to be approved by a majority of the voters in order to increase the sales tax. 

In 2020, the Legislature changed that RCW and allowed local governments to impose the tax increase by councilmanic vote. This change meant that County or City Councils did not have to go to the voters to increase the sales tax rate for affordable housing and behavioral health programs. 

The ordinance (21-098) was proposed by the County Executive and Council Leadership and introduced on Tuesday, November 30th. The proposal used the loophole created by the legislature to bypass the voters and increase the sales tax without a vote of the people. This was the subject of my first concern with the proposal. Just because we could pass the tax without a vote of the people didn’t mean we should. I proposed an amendment that would have sent the issue to the ballot. My amendment failed on a 3-2 vote with Councilmember Low and I voting to send it to the ballot.  

Additionally, I was concerned that the proposal was rushed through at the last public hearing before Christmas. Usually, we spend much more time on a proposal, including committee meetings and a robust public process before taking a final vote. Instead, this proposal was introduced on Wednesday, December 1st and a Public Hearing and vote was scheduled for Wednesday, December 15th, only two weeks later.  

We heard from 390 residents via email and over 40 residents testified at the Public Hearing. This showed a significant public interest in the tax increase and warranted much more consideration and time to work through the questions and concerns that were raised.  

Rather than waiting and taking more time, the Council pushed the proposal through on the 15th with Councilmember Low and I objecting.  

Since the Council moved forward and the sales tax increase will go into effect, I will be shifting my efforts to accountability and effectiveness of the programs it will fund. We have seen hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on addressing homelessness in Seattle and King County with little success; it is critical that Snohomish County does not replicate that model.  

My focus moving forward will be making sure that these newly created programs are actually accomplishing the intended results by creating affordable housing and ending the cycle of homelessness and behavioral health issues. If you have thoughts about how these funds should be used or what metrics we should measure success with, please do not hesitate in reaching out to my office at nate.nehring@snoco.org.  

Nate Nehring is a member of the Snohomish County Council and represents District 1 which includes Arlington, Darrington, Granite Falls, Marysville, Stanwood, and unincorporated north county. He can be reached by email at Nate.Nehring@snoco.org or by phone at 425-512-4810.

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