At its meeting this afternoon, the King County Council---meeting as the King County Flood Control District---discussed whether the district, whose purpose is to prevent floods in King County, should help replace Seattle's waterfront seawall. The city is counting on $30 million in seawall funding from the county, or about 10 percent of the total cost. Seattle contributes about a third of the $35 million the flood district receives in taxes annually, but gets only some of that money back for Seattle projects; in other words, Seattle taxpayers subsidize flood-control projects in rural areas of the county where, some argue, suburban cities should not be developing in the first place.

A few things are at issue here, so bear with me. First, there's the complicated question of "levy suppression." In short, the state has imposed a tax cap on local taxing districts of $5.90 per $1,000 of assessed property value. King County could go over that cap in 51 of about 500 areas next year. If they do, the flood district---a "junior" taxing district that was just created in 2007---could lose its authority to impose any taxes. Because the county council considers that unacceptable, they're offering King County's fire control districts between $5.5 and $8.5 million to give some of their taxing authority to the flood district.

However, some suburban and rural county council members have expressed concern that if the flood district money is used to pay for the seawall, other important flood-control projects may have to be cut. Which brings up the second issue: Should flood-control district dollars be restricted to controlling floods in "rivers and flood plains," as the King County flood management plan stipulates, or can they also be used to control and prevent floods in coastal areas, like the seawall?

At today's public hearing, proponents of the latter argument---mostly representatives of cities, including Seattle and Bellevue---argued that a breach of the seawall would have county- and region-wide implications. The debate split mostly along the usual party lines (Democrats in favor, Republicans opposed), with county council chair Julia Patterson, a Democrat whose district is largely rural, reportedly a potential swing vote.

"I hope there's no doubt in anyone's minds that a failure of the seawall, which happens to be located in downtown Seattle would have a region-wide impact [and that] everyone is well aware that the jobs [the seawall] supports… are jobs that are throughout King County and throughout the region," city council member Mike O'Brien told the county council.

However, opponents of funding the seawall with flood-control taxes (including members of the county's flood control advisory committee, which has generally opposed paying for the seawall from the flood district's existing tax base) argued that the flood district is only supposed to deal with flooding around King County's lakes and rivers, and that funding the seawall from existing taxes would make it harder to deal with looming flood-control issues, like flood prevention around the Howard Hanson Dam.

"There just isn't enough to go around for everybody," said Kent mayor Suzette Cook, a member of the advisory committee, adding that the pertinent question was, "Is the flood control district going to be a flood control district … or is it going to end up being a shoreline management plan?" County council member Kathy Lambert said that if the county uses flood-district taxes to fund the seawall, the county's ten-year flood management plan could "turn into a 40-year plan."

The county council will vote on its final budget, including the flood control district, on November 15.
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