10/16/2008: "Big Turnout For Tax Increase Re:Weeds"
(Amada Azous, Chair of Noxious Weed Board Addresses Coucil)
San Juan County Council public hearing on an Ordinace for increased tax assessment for the Noxious Weed Board drew a full house on Tuesday, and as a result had to continued the meeting to Nov 18 at 10:40 a.m.
Prior to the start of the meeting Councilman Gene Knapp suggested to his fellow council members that given the state of the economy in the country and in the county, this was not a good time to be asking the public to pay more taxes. Knapp’s comments turned out be prescient, for more than one who testified express the same sentiment to the Council.
One thing that everyone seemed to agree on is that noxious weeds can be a problem. But there were a wide range of opinions express on how to control them and who should do it. In general terms, one side said the County needs to raise more money for the Noxious Weed Board (the Board), and the other extreme said that property owners who remove the weeds should get a property tax break.
Amada Azous represented the Board before the Council, and said that up to now “The County has received far more value in our noxious weeds program than the citizens have actually had to pay for.” The Board is asking the County Council for a new assessment to pay for the Board’s expenses. The proposal is for an annual assessment of $8.10 per parcel plus $00.81 per acre on all property classified as nonforest land.” The charge would be added to the property tax bill.
Azous said paying that amount will allow the Board to aid property owners to remove their weeds, and “to make sure the properties adjacent to them are fulfilling the law,” and that it will fund the board for the next twelve years.
Azous said “our task is to enforce the state law.” The law is contained in RCW 17.10, and includes granting the Board the “Right of entry - Warrant for noxious weed search - Civil liability - Penalty for preventing entry.” The Board said they will not enforce or fund their program by the use of fines.
but if they -or a future Board- decided to, there are some heavy fines available to them.
Fines for the Class A noxious weed offenses starts off at: “1st offense within five years $ 750.00; 2nd and any subsequent offense $1,000.00
Also, for those who may decide to interfere with the carrying out of the provisions of chapter 17.10 of the RCW “ shall be assessed as follows: 1st offense within five years $500.00; 2nd offense $750.00, and if any subsequent offense $1,000.00. And fines do not include the labor costs the Board could charge the property owner to remove the weeds. The representatives from the Board have repeatedly told the Council they have never exercised these police powers, and “we never will.”
Tom Noland of San Juan Island said he recently observed Public Works using “Two 10 yard dump trucks, one flat bed truck, two pick-up trucks, one back-hoe, one street-sweeper, and six county employees to mulch150 feet of West Valley Road with re-cycled cardboard to control weeds. .
Noland said a quick cost analysis for that afternoon’s work indicated the cost to be close to $3,000.00 ($2,730.00 by his estimate). Noland told the Council that comes out to $18.23 a lineal foot, so a mile of mulching will cost $92,254.00. Noland said the private sector can do it for less, and left his business card on the table.
Gordy Petersen was the last to testify, and he expressed his concern that the County is moving away from using volunteers, and taxing to raise money to pay county workers to do the same work. He quoted from the SJC Comprehensive Plan that the County “Support volunteerism and 'neighbors helping neighbors' as basic tenets of island life."
Petersen ended the testimony by stating “As Islanders we help our neighbors. If my neighbor has a noxious weed problem that is spreading to my property I will go talk to him and we will go out together and pull weeds. If he has a problem with weeds on my property he can come to me and I will take care of it. This is how islanders solve problems.