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Legislative proposals on the table in Olympia of concern to Sunnyside Port District commissioners

Two legislative bills have been presented so far this session that have Sunnyside Port officials concerned.

One bill that has been introduced in the State Senate would phase out port tax levies over the course of 18 years for ports in counties with populations over 250,000. This means the Grandview and Sunnyside ports would be included in that.

That's a potential problem, says Sunnyside Port Director Amber Hansen.

Simply put, Hansen says, "If you take away our taxes, we can't help the city and the community grow."

Hansen said the Port uses tax dollars wisely, like for buying property or for infrastructure to make a property more desirable for industries. "We don't use it to pay any kind of salaries or operating costs and it doesn't go to support the (wastewater treatment plant) at all," she said.

Hansen said the state of Washington has consistently prohibited lending of credit or gifting of public funds, unlike states Washington competes with when it comes to attracting big business. She said in states where it's not prohibited, land can be gifted or financial bonuses can be given to attract the businesses.

"Washington state prohibits that and rightly so," she says. "But one of the things that Washington supports is that we can put infrastructure in place that makes property more attractive." Tax funds can be used for that purpose.

Tax dollars can also be used for matching funds when it comes to obtaining other funding sources for property improvements. Simply put, she said, "We couldn't do without it."

The other ports that would be impacted besides Sunnyside and Grandview, should the bill pass, are Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, Edmonds, Olympia, Bellingham and Vancouver.

Of the bigger entities, Hansen said, "They've got revenue streams to support them. Until you build yourself up to having this revenue system, (it's not there)."

Bills have also been presented in Olympia regarding banked levy capacity, one to require voter approval to do so and another to eliminate it, though these bills are not specified as being directly port related.

"It's going back to the use it or lose it mentality," Hansen said. "All it will do in the future is have everybody taxed to the limit every time."

Another prickly piece of legislation has been presented by Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna and State Auditor Brian Sonntag requiring all executive sessions be tape recorded.

In a memo supporting the legislation, McKenna cites a Seattle Times article reporting that Port of Seattle commissioners argued over whether or not they had agreed in executive session to promising an outgoing administrator a severance package. McKenna said the legislation could help governments recall actions taken when disputes later arise.

Hansen isn't in favor of taped executive sessions. "If you follow the rules, and the port follows the rules, about why you are going into (executive session), it (recording the sessions) really shouldn't be necessary."

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