Clallam County seeks to invest $2.5M in local economy

Clallam County commissioners continue to move forward with developing multi-approach plan to spend $2.51 million from the county’s 2015 General Fund in an attempt to stimulate the local economy.

Clallam County commissioners continue to move forward with developing multi-approach plan to spend $2.51 million from the county’s 2015 General Fund in an attempt to stimulate the local economy.

The commissioners unanimously approved a resolution to notify the Washington Department of Revenue of a countywide tax holiday, April 14.

Beginning July 1, the county’s optional sales tax rate will be reduced within the unincorporated county from 8.4 percent to 8.2 percent.

Given the lowered tax rate, Clallam County Administrator Jim Jones anticipates the tax holiday to equate to nearly $500,000 in direct savings by taxpayers throughout the course of six months.

“I think we’re on the cusp of potential for some real positive economic things to happen right now in Clallam County,” Jones said. “That is, if we can push that and tip it to the positive side … if we don’t, then I’m afraid we’re in a downward spiral.”

Throughout the past couple of weeks Jones and County Commissioners Mike Chapman, Jim McEntire and Bill Peach have been discussing how to best spend the $2.51 million in excess general funds and slowly a multi-prong approach has begun to take form.

Along with a tax holiday, commissioners, with Chapman abstaining, approved $150,000 in general funds to be allocated toward the Economic Development Council in hopes of improving the nonprofit’s efficiency and effectiveness.

While $500,000 of the excess general funds is now earmarked to offset the anticipated tax holiday and $150,000 for the Economic Development Council, the remainder of the money still is up for discussion, but plans have begun to “take shape,” Jones said.

According to a recommendation prepared by Jones, a large portion of the money is tentatively earmarked for unfunded capital projects that would contribute to local economic development. Specifically, an estimated $1.5 million is intended for the design, engineering and installation of repairing or replacing the failing transport lines in the Clallam Bay/Sekiu sewer system.

“It’s important this gets done sooner rather than later,” McEntire said. “If it fails, it would cost far more.”

Jones’ recommendation also aims to support nonprofits that are helping the community, but it’s “more difficult to legally accomplish,” Jones said, given state law limits county officials’ ability to give or gift general taxpayer monies to such organizations.

Although no action has been taken, possible support grants may include those for Olympic Medical Center and Forks Community Hospital, as well as setting aside a portion of funds open via request by any organization that can set up and operate an emergency utility payment program for those below the federal poverty level, for example.

Other community-centric services the excess funds may be used for include increasing the general public’s access to the courthouse and providing support for veterans and the Homeless Task Force.

“By doing these types of things over the next six months, I’m a little better than 50/50 that we could see a real positive result long-term in the county,” Jones said.

In reviewing the 2015 budget, Jones identified the $2.51 million as money potentially available for such a wide array of investments with the shared goal to kick start what’s hoped to be long-term economic growth. The funds, he cautiously refers to as “excess,” are primarily a result of unanticipated revenue from timber sales, increased sales tax from the road construction on U.S. Highway 101 between Sequim and Port Angeles and closure of two criminal justice accounts.

“These are one-time in and one-time out funds,” Jones said. “We have these funds now, but I don’t anticipate having them again anytime in the future. Instead of saving it, maybe it can be a chance to make a difference.”

Because Clallam County is the only county left in the state without non-voter debt, Jones said, the county is able to spend its funds on services for the people, instead of paying off outstanding debt.

To be able to develop a spending strategy for the excess general funds is a “very unique” thing and nothing like it has been done at least during the nine years Jones has been with the county, he said.

 

Reach Alana Linderoth at alinderoth@sequimgazette.com.