Public comments on whether Kitsap County should impose an additional one-tenth of 1% percent sales tax to fund affordable housing were both supportive and in opposition during a public hearing on the proposal on Monday.
In a regular meeting of the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners, 12 people provided testimony on the proposal. Some expressed strong support, while others spoke against the proposed ordinance and questioned the use of the money.
Port Orchard Mayor Rob Putaansuu urged the commissioners to move the measure forward in the meeting.
“This (local sales tax) alone won’t solve the affordable housing problem, but I believe it will make a meaningful difference,” Putaansuu said.
As a Kitsap resident who’s worked with those with addiction and in the mental health community, Helen Havens of Bremerton spoke in favor of the tax increase. Havens said the need for affordable housing has grown and that the pandemic makes the lack of it “more obvious, more dangerous for the public health as well as individual health.”
Speaking on behalf of herself, Havens said she currently serves on the Kitsap County citizens committee that advises commissioners on how to spend sales tax revenue collected to help those struggling with addiction and mental health issues. A one-tenth of 1% percent sales tax has been collected for that since 2013.
“This investment would save much more than it would call for in the long run, ” Havens said.
Similar to the mental health issue, the county plans to set up a citizen advisory board of stakeholders and experts to review the current need for affordable housing and make recommendations to the commissioners if the tax is approved, Kitsap County Human Services Department Director Doug Washburn said.
Randy Sweeten, of Central Kitsap, spoke against creating another tax to address the issue. He said the county has the funds and shouldn’t take an additional $17 — the amount the county estimates the tax will cost the average resident a year — from people via the tax.
“Reassess what you’re doing,” Sweeten said. “Just throwing another tax out there? Gosh, stop it.”
Rob Doherty of Port Orchard, who says he’s not a fan of increasing taxes, questioned the necessity of an increase in sales tax and asked at what income level one is qualified to get the assistance for affordable housing.
“I’m sure we have a lot of funding for health and human services without doing this,” Doherty said.
The funding will serve a range of people — including individuals who are veterans, senior citizens, the homeless, people with disabilities, or domestic violence victims — with income below 60% of area median income, according to Washburn.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimated the median household income in Kitsap County was $79,624 in 2019 in the American Community survey.
People can submit written comments on the ordinance to the county until Dec. 31. A vote on the tax is scheduled for Jan. 10, 2022. If approved, the sales tax will be enacted on April 1, county officials said.