Bellingham Council mulls November climate property tax vote

Estimate: $186 per year on $500,000 home
April 26, 2022 at 5:10 a.m.

Staff Reporter

A proposed property tax supporting Bellingham’s Climate Action Fund may cost owners of a $500,000 home an additional $186 per year, according to city employees. 

Members of Bellingham’s City Council learned more about the economic impacts of the proposed tax, designed to fund green projects like low-carbon transportation and green energy, during Monday’s Climate Action Committee meeting. 

The city hopes to use funds to support education programs targeting public transit and biking (low-carbon transportation modes), incentives for electric vehicle chargers, providing electric heat pumps and public cooling stations. 

The proposed tax is part of a $60 million, 10-year levy, and would help cover the approximate $4.5 million needed for the Climate Action Fund’s first year of expenses. It may appear on the ballot in the November election. 

The $186 per year comes from city estimates of households paying an additional $0.37 per $1,000 of assessed valuation on a home valued at $500,000.

“We’re proposing the creation of a Climate Action Fund to give us a stable source of funding for development of the type of long-term programs that we need to meet the challenge of climate change,” Bellingham Climate and Energy Manager Seth Vidaña told council members. “We need to consider not only the funds that we’ll raise, but how the world around us will evolve over the next decade.”

City staffers considered alternatives to the property tax, including a tax on natural gas use, but called the property tax a “more equitable” option.

“There’s no truly equitable approach for funding this,” said Forrest Longman, the city’s deputy finance director. “We believe that the property tax is comparatively less regressive and more equitable option, and additionally, it’s more predictable and stable long-term funding for this long-term project.”

Monday’s presentation was the third in a multi-step review process. Council members and the public will have additional opportunities to learn more about the tax. 

Council members say the $60 million levy is a good starting point for green projects in the community, but the actual cost may be much higher long term. 

“Looking at all the funds needed for the recommendation in the Climate Action Plan to get us to 2050, it’s a little bit north of a billion dollars,” council member Kristina Martens told the council Monday. “Even at $60 million, it’s a drop in the bucket.”

The proposed tax presents new challenges for the council, and comes at a time of high inflation, ballooning property values and stagnating wages.

“This is a heavy lift for the community,” Mayor Seth Fleetwood said. “What is most important, from my perspective, is simply that we have a meaningful, dedicated Climate Action Fund by some means, and this is the means that we’re proposing at this time.”

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