Thurston County is pursuing an innovative tax on rural septic systems, which local residents call “The Crap Tax.” Here, in Thurston County, residents have seen many strange taxes including the unique pocket gopher tax on new homes, the rain tax (euphemistically called stormwater “fees”) and a variety of other taxes and “fees” that are always increasing. In return, the residents of Thurston County receive no benefit, while the estimated $2.4 million raised annually bloat the bureaucracy.
In a scorched earth campaign, lame duck Thurston County Commissioners Sandra Romero and Cathy Wolfe are rushing passage of a collection of legislation and regulations while Democrats still control the Thurston County Commission. One of their prime reasons for rushing this now is to shield their protege Jim Cooper, who also supports these taxes, from the stigma these votes impose. While this might be disingenuous, immoral, and destructive – it probably isn’t illegal. It has also continued a pattern of behavior that the long suffering residents of Thurston County have come to expect from their elected officials.
The latest example is the proposed “Crap Tax,” which will be imposed on every home owner in Thurston County with an on-site septic system. A public hearing was scheduled at 5:30pm on June 14th, so that Thurston County Commissioners could pretend to listen to the public, but like most of their actions in the past, the crap tax is a cake already baked. They expect to feed it to the citizens of Thurston County next year. Commissioners and senior staff are already budgeting for the next fiscal year with the assumption this septic tax is in the books.
For many years, the Thurston County Health Department has been attempting to utilize private septic systems to generate new tax
revenue. There has long been a serious case of tax envy from Thurston County bureaucrats toward cities like Lacey, Tumwater, and Olympia that have been able to use utility taxes and sewer taxes/fees to pad their revenue stream. Thurston County has become aware that unincorporated residents use septic systems that have not been taxed as sewer systems have been and some residents also use private water wells that have not been taxed. The county’s solution is to turn septic systems into de-facto utilities that can be taxed. Thus, Thurston County has discovered a fertile cash cow in the “crap” tax.
Striving for peak tax extraction from rural residents
The first squeeze was “Shellfish Protection Districts,” as typified by Thurston County’s Henderson Watershed District, but these districts only captured tax dollars from a small percentage of rural residents. The punitive nature of these districts is that only the Northern part of Thurston County has watersheds that drain into Puget Sound; the only region where they could invent “Shellfish Protection Districts.” I testified against these watershed districts at a public hearing in 2011 and like most people in the room, I was ignored by Thurston County bureaucrats. Never mind that LOTT (the multi-jurisdictional regional government run Sewer Project) occasionally dumps 1.5 million gallons of raw sewage into the bay, Thurston County bureaucrats have focused on pollution problems from small septic systems five miles inland. The southern part of Thurston County is in the Chehalis River Basin, which ultimately drains into the Pacific Ocean. There was no legal excuse for a shellfish protection area in south Thurston County, therefore, to achieve the goal of peak tax collection, a health scare had to be invented to justify taxing ALL septic systems.
It wasn’t hard to do this. Compared to inventing the $42,000 gopher tax this was child’s play. Thurston County claimed that a large number of the 53,000 septic systems were “failing,” thus creating a health scare to justify the new tax. Also, they could circumvent the pesky civil disobedience aspect (ignoring permitting and inspection taxes assessed on existing septic systems) of the process by making this new tax part of the property tax bill. This way nobody could refuse to pay without the threat of losing their home to tax lien seizure. An additional bonus of this approach is that once the Crap Tax was buried in the property tax bill, politicians could steadily increase it without most people noticing. Pure awesomesauce!
Bait, switch and deception as policy
Thurston County today is incapable of identifying the “failed” septic systems in the county. Mainly because it is an exaggeration invented in the bowels of the health department and regurgitated on their website by staff and vendors paid to promulgate this fiction. Quietly, off the record, staff will admit that only a handful of septic systems actually “fail” each year and are usually repaired quickly. However, that fact isn’t convenient when the county is preparing to extract $2.3 million in new taxes next year.
The septic tax is proposed to be $45 per house once a year to start. I attended one of Thurston County’s “education open houses” earlier this year, where citizens were not allowed to speak, but could submit questions on index cards for possible response. This was in the City of Rainier, and roughly 100 county residents attended. Staff was openly mocked by many citizens in attendance and few bought the story city staff were tasked to sell.
We are told to trust these bureaucrats, which is a challenge for many considering these are the same politicians and senior bureaucrats who brought us the $61 million empty jail, who invented the $42,000 pocket gopher tax, who spent 18 years and $8 million to make a $4 million empty building worth $2 million and who couldn’t even draft a budget that used real math. It is particularly hard to support this scheme considering Commissioner Romero has been one of the most destructive county officials to ever hold office in Washington State. This septic tax scheme feels like another knife in the back of rural residents as these politicians skip out to enjoy their six-figure retirement packages.
Celebrating failure and serving notice to the establishment
At the recent Kennedy Dinner
celebration, Thurston County Democrats spent much of the evening praising the legacy of retiring Commissioners Sandra Romero and Cathy Wolfe. Very few specifics were given to justify this high praise other than their collective time on the public payroll as politicians. It appears that the destruction brought down on residents of Thurston County at their hands was supported by the Thurston County Democratic Party. Representative Sam Hunt (running for the Washington State Senate seat this year in the 22nd legislative district) ominously warned every Democrat in the audience “be careful of those Independents. They are Republicans dressed in sheep’s clothing as Independents.” This was a clear warning to the 150 Democrats in attendance to not vote for Independents running against Democrats on the ballot. It was also a direct attack on Commissioner Bud Blake who won election to the Commission in 2014 as an Independent, beating incompetent incumbent Democrat, Karen Valenzuela.
Commissioner Blake, clearly concerned about the Crap Tax, appears to be leaning towards a “no” vote. However, the two lame duck commissioners out-vote him until they retire at the end of the year. Both Wolfe and Romero support the Crap Tax for maximum harm to rural residents. What can you do?
The two lame duck Commissioners Sandra Romero and Cathy Wolfe may not be sympathetic to your concerns, but they are mostly pushing the Crap Tax now to assist their protege Jim Cooper who hopes to replace Cathy Wolfe. That doesn’t mean you can’t tell them what you think. Also make sure you vote and get twenty of your closest friends to vote, as well, in August (primary) and November. Remind these lame duck commissioners that no law they pass is safe from rejection by future councils, and send a message that we won’t elect politicians who just want to tax crap.
If you want to read about the hearing last night, see my next post, which I will link here when it is ready:
If you want to email all three commissioners and tell them what you think, go here.
If you want to comment directly to the Thurston County Health Department go here:
Our Constitution begins with the phrase “we the people.” It was the founder’s intent that government be created by the people, to serve the people. It wasn’t their intention for the people to serve the government. It was always intended that government which failed to serve the people should be “altered or abolished.” Until we return to the founder’s intent, we remain We the Governed…
For more background on Thurston County – read these articles: