Skagit County’s four cities are considering taking advantage of a new state law that allows them to retain a portion of their state sales tax to fund affordable housing projects.
At a meeting of city and county officials Wednesday, Mount Vernon Mayor Jill Boudreau and Anacortes Mayor Laurie Gere said their city councils are interested in the program.
Gere said Anacortes is also considering asking voters to approve an increase in sales tax within the city to fund affordable housing. It is a move that would allow the city to retain a larger percentage of sales tax collected.
“Right now they want to keep all options on the table,” she said of the Anacortes City Council.
Burlington Mayor Steve Sexton and Sedro-Woolley Mayor Julia Johnson said they haven’t discussed this new program in detail with their councils, but plan to in the near future.
The new law requires cities to pass a resolution of intent by Jan. 28 to take advantage of this program.
The county commissioners passed such a resolution on Aug. 5, saying the program could give the county $466,476 a year for the 20-year life of the program, or enough for about 240 affordable housing units.
This funding is available for projects that benefit those earning less than 60% of the county’s median household income.
However, if the cities also choose to take part in the program, at least half of the sales tax available through the program from each city is retained by the city instead.
Gere and Boudreau said they would be interested in pooling funding with the county and other cities, but would want to know their cities would benefit from this money.
“They wanted some assurance that Anacortes would be part of the decision process,” Gere said of her council.
Specifically, Boudreau said she would want to see three to five examples of projects that could get done by pooling resources.
County Commissioner Lisa Janicki assured them the cities would have input in what gets developed and where.
“(We) have a good history of working together on prioritizing projects,” Janicki said, referencing housing projects under development in Mount Vernon, Anacortes and Burlington.
County Commissioner Ken Dahlstedt said discussions of how funding would be distributed don’t ultimately matter without assurances that more projects will be built, something that requires effort from the cities.
He said he would be happy to offer funding for affordable housing projects after there is a plan and a site, as the county did recently on an Anacortes Family Center project.
Because of zoning and growth management restrictions, high-density affordable housing projects can’t be built outside a city.
“The cities need to take leadership on this,” Dahlstedt said after the meeting.