Labor Housing in Chelan County has a new source of funding…but it’s set to expire in 10 years

OLYMPIA — Crucial workforce housing projects in Chelan County may soon qualify with existing sales tax dollars — but that local sales tax is due to expire in just 10 years, and the Legislature of the state has yet to enact an extension.

State Sen. Brad Hawkins of the 12th District won full passage this week of a bill to fund affordable housing projects for workers in places like Leavenworth and Chelan, using what is called rural county sales and use tax. The 0.09% sales tax can be used by smaller counties to fund infrastructure and economic development projects within their borders.

Last year, Chelan County commissioners established the Cascade Public Infrastructure Fund to accept applications and allocate funds to eligible projects. It is approximately $2.5 million over three years, with more than $823,000 expected to be awarded in 2022.

Hawkins’ bill, which awaits Governor Jay Inslee’s signature, would make worker housing eligible for such funding, with counties able to issue bonds against sales and use tax collected. If signed into law, the bill will come into force in June. Leaders in Leavenworth, Chelan and other communities with extreme housing costs endorsed the effort.

Thirty-two counties use the rural county tax. But it must expire 25 years after its initial adoption by the counties, which would dry up this source of revenue. Chelan County’s ability to use the tax will end in 2032.

“In that time frame, we’ve got about 10 years, which may not be enough for some projects to come to fruition,” said Chelan County Commissioner Kevin Overbay, who is chairing the board of commissioners this year.

A bill to extend that end date to 2054 bogged down in a Senate committee on Wednesday, a day before the Legislative Assembly is constitutionally required to adjourn its regular session. Overbay says it’s possible the bill could still pass before the legislature adjourns or be revived before the 2032 expiration.

Michael A. Bynum