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Snohomish County proposes sales tax hike without a vote to fund affordable housing

Snohomish County has the highest tax rate in Washington at 10.5%. But taxpayers may not have a say in this proposal.

LYNNWOOD, Wash — With prices going up and inflation on the rise, Snohomish County is proposing a sales tax increase, even though it already has the highest sales tax in the state.

"Nobody likes to raise taxes," said Snohomish County spokesperson Kent Patton. "But unfortunately, we have one tool at our disposal at the county level."

Patton said the money would raise $117 million over the next five years to build 300 new units of affordable housing, more than doubling what's already in the works.

He said it's desperately needed.

"In Snohomish County, to afford a 2-bedroom apartment, a person making minimum wage has to work three full-time jobs. People are struggling to pay for housing. Ask any teacher or construction worker, or the person who delivers your food. This is a crisis."

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King County's sales tax sits at 10.3% and the same is true in Pierce County. 

Snohomish County has the highest in Washington at 10.5%.

An additional tenth of a percent would push Lynnwood, Mukilteo, Mill Creek and the Snohomish County section of Bothell to 10.6%. 

The rate is so high, the City of Lynnwood sent a letter to the council stating, "We oppose any increase in the sales tax rate in our county. We appeal to you and to our state legislature to find other forms of revenue to address the pressing issues of housing and mental health."

Angering opponents is the likelihood that the increase could happen without the consent of the people, and there may not be much that taxpayers can do about it.

"They're going to get hit with a sales tax increase without really having any say in it," said Snohomish County Councilmember Nate Nehring.

Last year, state legislators passed a law giving cities and counties the authority to raise sales taxes for housing without a vote of the people.

"Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should," said Nehring, of Arlington. "It most directly impacts those who are poor and in the middle class. We should be listening to those folks who say they don't want this. That's why I think it's so important this go to a public vote, so they can have their voices heard."

The last sales tax increase in Snohomish County was three years ago. It was a one-tenth of a percent hike to fund emergency communications. 

Patton said if this increase is passed, it would only cost the average person about $27 per year.

When asked why not put it to a vote, Patton said, "The crisis is now. We want to act now and we can't afford to have a thousand hearings and repeat the same things we've been doing for years. We believe the need is so great we have to do something now."

The Snohomish County Council is expected to vote on the increase in two weeks.

If approved, the tax hike will take effect in April.