Today we usher in 2017, and with it, new laws and ordinances that increase wages, yes, but taxes and fees too.
Many of Washington state’s low-wage workers will see a pay raise this week as the state minimum wage rises from $9.47 an hour to $11 Sunday (Jan. 1).
But many Thurston County residents’ wallets will feel tugs from local government as well, to fund road repairs, parks, water and sewer systems, and public safety. Here’s a look at those wages, fees and taxes.
The pay bump is thanks to Initiative 1433, passed by voters this fall, which will incrementally raise the minimum wage to $13.50 an hour by 2020. The new minimum wage applies to all jobs, including those in agriculture. Workers who are younger than 16 years old can be paid 85 percent of the adult minimum wage, or $9.35 per hour.
The initiative represents the most significant statewide minimum wage increase since 1989.
Because of the jump, the state Department of Labor & Industries reports a spike in the number of people calling in to learn about the new minimum wage law, said Matthew Erlich, an L&I spokesman.
“Most people are asking the basic question: ‘What is the minimum wage and when does it take effect?’ ” he said.
Erlich said there has been some confusion stemming from the variety of minimum wages in Western Washington. Seattle, SeaTac and Tacoma all already have their own ordinances raising the minimum wage above the state’s current $9.47 per hour.
When there are two laws regulating minimum wage, the higher wage takes precedent, Erlich said.
Erlich said L&I is responsible for investigating claims of underpaying workers, but he said it’s difficult to tell if the higher minimum wage will lead to more complaints. The department hasn’t added staff in expectation of more work.
But he said L&I has been doing more outreach about the law. The department plans to run radio advertisements soon as a public education effort aimed mostly at farm workers.
Since many farm workers speak Spanish, Erlich said, some of the radio ads will be on Spanish language radio stations in Yakima and elsewhere around the state.
The department also is distributing information on the wage increase in Russian, Vietnamese and other languages.
“In this case, because of the election and passage of the initiative, we certainly see a need that business owners and employees get the word,” Erlich said.
The minimum wage initiative also requires employers to provide paid sick leave. That portion of the measure doesn’t take effect until 2018.
For Olympia residents, 2017 could be the year of the tax.
Starting Sunday (Jan. 1), vehicle license tab fees increase from $20 to $40 for anyone living within city limits. An estimated $750,000 will be generated for road repairs and maintenance.
More than a year after its passage, the Metropolitan Parks District will take effect and collect $1.6 million in property taxes. The money will be used for buying park land and maintenance while allowing the parks department to add nine employees.
Olympia voters also may be asked to vote on a housing levy and a public safety levy.
Advocacy group The Home Fund informally pitched the idea of a housing levy earlier this year to the county’s three biggest cities. Their goal is to build 500 affordable housing units and help 2,400 households in Thurston County using a property tax of 36 cents per $1,000 in assessed value.
Supporters say more affordable housing can reduce homelessness while also reducing the strain on local shelters, hospitals and jails. Thurston County also ranks near the bottom in the state for housing affordability with an average monthly rent of $963 for a family of four.
Home Fund co-organizer Charles Shelan said the levy request is “totally on track” for 2017. The group will work to get the levy on the November ballot by getting authorization from Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater. Shelan recently retired as the longtime CEO of Community Youth Services, which helps thousands of homeless children, young adults and families in the area.
“People are hurting and affordable housing is an issue anywhere I go,” he told The Olympian, adding that he feels confident voters will see the need and approve a levy. “This community has been really good about stepping up.”
Because affordable housing is a countywide issue, Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby said she prefers that all municipalities move forward at the same time.
“We don’t want to put something on the ballot that’s going to fail,” she said.
No official public safety levy proposal has been made in Olympia. However, the city’s 2017 budget is short more than $3 million for police training, body cameras, a downtown walking patrol and upgraded technology.
To establish dedicated funding to meet those needs, City Manager Steve Hall said, staff will explore options for a levy that could go on a ballot in 2017 or 2018. The levy would apply to property taxes as well as business and occupation taxes, he said.
The city of Lacey is banking on a new source of revenue in the new year to help with city road maintenance. But first voters will have to agree to support the funding mechanism for the Transportation Benefit District.
That vote is set for Feb. 14, when voters will be asked to approve increasing the local sales tax to 8.9 percent from 8.7 percent. If approved, the increase will raise $1.7 million to $1.9 million annually for road repairs. The local sales tax increase would be in effect for 10 years.
The cost to the city for the special election is estimated at between $70,000 to $100,000, Finance Director Troy Woo said.
The city used to transfer $1 million — $850,000 from its general fund and $150,000 in capital funds — to cover the cost of road repairs, also known as the city’s “overlay” program. But when the recession created deficits in the city’s budget, the city had to dedicate those funds to operations, Woo said.
Public Works Director Scott Egger has said the city’s streets generally are in pretty good condition, but without regular maintenance they will deteriorate and become even more expensive to repair.
The city, like the private sector, also will have to adjust to the higher, voter-approved state minimum wage.
The state’s minimum wage was set to rise to $9.55 next year, based on changes to the consumer price index, Woo said. But after voters approved a further hike to $11 an hour, the city will need $45,000 more to cover salaries this year. The increased cost comes primarily from part-time, seasonal workers with city parks and maintenance.
By 2020, when the minimum wage climbs to $13.50 an hour, the city expects a cumulative increase of $200,000, he said. Woo said it is too early to say how the city will adjust to the higher costs, but next year’s increase already has been factored into the 2017 budget.
A new ordinance that bans consumer fireworks in unincorporated areas during periods of extreme fire danger begins this year.
The measure was approved 3-0 by the Board of County Commissioners last June. Between written and public comments, 41 people supported some form of a ban, whether it was during burn bans or at all times, and 39 were against more restrictions, according to Thurston County Commissioner Cathy Wolfe.
Thurston County follows state law for the sale of consumer fireworks, which allows fireworks to be sold noon-11 p.m. on June 28, 9 a.m.-11 p.m. on each day from June 28 through July 4, and 9 a.m.-9 p.m. on July 5. The discharge of consumer fireworks is permitted 9 a.m. until 11 p.m. on July 3 and July 4 only.
The new regulations will give county officials authority to “authorize temporary bans regarding the use of consumer fireworks in times of high fire danger in unincorporated Thurston County,” according to the ordinance.
Also new in 2017, residents in certain areas of the county will see increases in their sewer and water rates, according to interim county manager Ramiro Chavez.
He said the following utilities have increases in 2017: Boston Harbor water fees are up 10 percent, Tamoshan and Olympic View sewer fees are up 5 percent, and Grand Mound water and sewer will be up 5 percent.
But two other hot topics that county commissioners talked about in 2016 won’t affect residents for at least another year.
The county’s Transportation Benefit District board, which is made up of the county commissioners, did not take action on a proposed $20 fee.
“The new board will look at this matter in 2017,” Chavez said.
And a recently adopted $10 annual fee for property owners with septic systems won’t go into effect until 2018, unless it is repealed by the county’s new Board of County Commissioners, that takes office Tuesday.
Commissioner Bud Blake voted against the fee, and newly elected commissioners John Hutchings and Gary Edwards have spoken against it. In fact, Hutchings said he will work to repeal the septic fee.
The minimum-wage increase will have little impact on Thurston County, which had 79 employees who made less than $11 an hour in 2016, Chavez said. Fifty of those workers were in the Auditor’s Office Elections division, and 29 worked at the Thurston County Fair.
“Based on the number of hours worked this year, and assuming the same staff levels for 2017, the 2017 financial impact to Elections is $5,200 and $2,900 to the Fair for a total of $8,100,” Chavez said.
Grays Harbor County
Consumers in Grays Harbor County will pay a higher sales tax rate on purchases starting Sunday (Jan. 1), with the increase going to support criminal justice and public safety. Voters approved the increase in August.
Shoppers in Grays Harbor County will pay three-tenths of 1 percent more in sales and use tax. The new sales and use tax rate will be 8.8 percent in unincorporated areas and the cities of Cosmopolis, Elma, Hoquiam, McCleary, Montesano, Oakville, Ocean Shores and Westport. The new rate in Aberdeen will be 8.93 percent. For example, a $100 purchase will cost shoppers an additional 30 cents. The new rates put Aberdeen above the state average for sales tax, about 8.9 percent.
The last time Grays Harbor County raised local sales tax rates was in April 2014, according to the state Department of Revenue.
Dan Hammock of The Daily World in Aberdeen also contributed to this report.