King County property taxes will go up next year to pay for passenger ferries. The King County Council, sitting as a Ferry District, voted...

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King County property taxes will go up next year to pay for passenger ferries.

The King County Council, sitting as a Ferry District, voted 8-1 today to get into the foot-ferry business, picking up the Vashon Island passenger ferry from the state and eventually running the West Seattle water taxi year-round.

It also will finance five ferry demonstration routes.

The new tax, authorized by the state Legislature, will increase property taxes about a nickel for every $1,000 of assessed valuation. For a $400,000 house, that will mean about $22 a year.

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The new tax will revive the old mosquito fleet of ferries criss-crossing Puget Sound, said Councilmember Dow Constantine, who represents Vashon Island.

“Automobiles are now in gridlock. These open waters offer a tremendous opportunity to re-establish choices for county residents to get to and from work,” he said. “It’s an important lifeline for Vashon residents. Let’s move forward and build the mosquito fleet.”

But Councilmember Reagan Dunn voted against the measure, saying county residents are already heavily taxed.

“We need to be thinking of the priorities we’re putting on folks,” he said. “This service wouldn’t benefit all of King County.”

Further, said Dunn, he’s concerned about the state dumping programs, like foot ferries, on local governments and he isn’t convinced the ferries will provide a meaningful reduction in road traffic.

“You gotta think about people’s pocketbooks,” Dunn said, calling himself an intelligent naysayer.

Under the plan, the county would spend about $18 million the first year to pay for the Vashon ferry and the Elliott Bay Water Taxi, as well as five demonstration routes: Kirkland, South Puget Sound, Kenmore, Shilshole and Renton. The plan doesn’t identify where the ferries would go to, but the assumption is the Kirkland ferry would go to the University of Washington.

Under the plan, proposed by County Executive Ron Sims, in July 2008 King County’s new ferry district will assume the financial responsibility for the Vashon Island passenger ferry, but it will still be operated by Washington State Ferries. In July 2009, King County will take over the route.

The first demonstration route, Kirkland to Seattle, would begin in July 2009, followed by the South Sound route, under the county’s plans.

The county’s move was prodded by the state Legislature, which in 2005 said it wouldn’t continue to pay for Vashon service. A year ago Sims sent a letter to Gov. Christine Gregoire outlining the county’s plans to take over that ferry.

The Legislature four years ago gave counties the right to create ferry districts without a public vote and to impose a property tax of up to 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

Dunn raised the question of how many people would actually be riding these ferries.

King County Metro said the 2007 season of the Elliott Bay Water Taxi saw ridership increase by 32 percent, with a total of 161,331 riders using the West Seattle-to-downtown service.

Afternoon peak ridership on the Vashon foot ferry was about 270 riders per day last year, down from 330 riders in 2003 and 420 riders in 2001.

The county estimates that there would be 157,300 riders to and from Vashon in 2008, going to 161,200 by 2016.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or

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