Tax Increases related to Residential Population Growth


Amanda Azous of Azous Environmental Sciences wrote, in 1995, a report on the relationship between population growth and tax increases in San Juan County. A key finding of the report:

"On the basis of trends since 1987, ... average taxes paid on a taxable parcel would be expected to increase roughly six times 1994 levels at buildout, predicted [in 1995 without subsequent changes to the comp plan] to be somewhere around 43,000 people."

As a reference, the current population of San Juan County is about 14,000 and the comp plan has a buildout population between about 60,000 and 115,000 (see table 3 of the September 14,2000 memo by SJC Planning Department), depending upon the number of guest houses that may be permitted and which is the subject of an appeal by SJC before Thurston County Superior Court in the spring of 2001.

Many studies have shown that residential development is not self-supporting fiscally, including the "Cost of Community Services" study produced for Skagit County in 1997 by the American Farmland Trust, which noted: "Residential development did not pay for itself, requiring $1.25 in services for every dolar of revenue generated." Translated into specific terms, this means that every new house that is constructed in San Juan County is being subsidized by all other property owners in the county.

Here is the Executive Summary from the report:

This study demonstrates that protection of agriculture is crucial to the economic well being of Skagit County. Crops produced in the Skagit Valley, including vegetable seeds, berries, potatoes, row crop vegetables, bulbs and flowers, contribute nearly $200 million to the local economy annually. Skagit's famous tulip festival attracts about one million visitors each spring, generating $65 million in annual tourism revenues.

People familiar with the valley know the importance of farming to local families and businesses. Residents understand how the working landscape is ingrained in the rural lifestyle that depends on healthy natural resources. The findings of this study show the economic value of agriculture in Skagit County from another perspective - its fiscal benefit to the county.

Study findings indicate that farm, forest and open land had a positive fiscal impact on Skagit County in 1997. Because of its modest requirement for services, open land created a surplus of revenue for the county. For every dollar of revenue they generated, farm, forest and open land only cost 51 cents. Residential development overall did not pay for itself, requiring $1.25 in services for every dollar of revenue generated.

1997 SKAGIT COUNTY FINDINGS Land use ratio*

Residential Development $1.00 : $1.25

Commercial Development $1.00 : $0.34

Industrial Development $1.00 : $0.29

Farm/Forest/Open Land $1.00 : $0.51

* Cost per dollar of revenue

Findings show that farms and forests in Skagit County are more than scenic landscapes - they are a positive economic investment in the community. This information will be useful to the county as intensifying growth pressures require thoughtful land use decisions. Sound planning is necessary to ensure sufficient investment in the health of Skagit County's economy and unique natural resources.

You can obtain a copy of this report by calling "Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland" (SPF) in Mt. Vernon, WA at 360-336-3974, or by writing them at "". You can learn more about SPF by accessing their web site.

We would much appreciate knowing if the information in this web site is of value to you. An email address for your comments is provided below.


This web site was created by the petitioners to provide full public information about the comp plan and issues raised in the appeals. It is not provided by San Juan County.

Petitioners are committed to supporting conservation of the biologic, scenic and rural qualities of the San Juan Islands. We encourage the support of The San Juan Preservation Trust, a non-profit land trust helping preserve San Juan County by assisting landowners in dedicating conservation easements on their property.

If you would like to contribute to the discussion on and of the future of San Juan County, or have suggestions for improving this web site, please email your submissions or ideas to "joe AT doebay DOT net"

© 2000 joe symons