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Recapping the February Election Results

Recapping the February Election Results

As usual, there weren’t a whole lot of local ballot measures in the February special election. However, there are a few results that I think are particularly interesting. Let’s take a look!

Don't forget to check out our Local Ballot Measure Database – I'll be updating it within a couple weeks once the final results are certified.

Olympia Affordable Housing Sales Tax Passing

A 0.1% affordable housing sales tax in Olympia is easily passing with over 60% of the vote. Olympia will become the second city in the state to impose an affordable housing sales tax following Ellensburg in November. The measure would generate about $2.3 million per year for affordable housing and related services, and the city is hoping to raise an addition $4.5 million annually in matching public and private funds.

This is a relatively new funding mechanism established by the 2015 legislature. For the first two years, only counties could submit this tax to voters. But no county imposed the sales tax by October 9 so this funding option is now open to any city or town outside of King County.

In King County, the deadline is one year later (October 9, 2018). If King County has not imposed an affordable housing sales tax by then, any city or town within the county may submit an affordable housing sales tax to voters.

For more information about affordable housing sales taxes and levies, see our page on Affordable Housing.

Pullman Bonds Passing on Second Attempt After Validation Questions

Pullman appears to have passed two bond measures: a 10-year, $2.4 million measure for park and recreation improvements, and a 20-year, $10.5 million measure for a new city hall, recreation center, and senior center, as well as acquisition of real property for a third fire station and acquisition and construction of the Lawson Gardens event center. Bond measures require 60% approval, and both measures are surpassing that.

The city previously submitted both measures to voters in November, where they got the required 60% support. However, bond measures also require 40% turnout (validation) compared to the most recent state general election. Both measures were very close to that threshold in November, but there was some uncertainty over the exact turnout required.

The uncertainty stemmed in part from disagreement over how turnout should be calculated. RCW 84.52.056(1) states that bond measures require “the affirmative vote of a three-fifths majority of those voting on the proposition and the total number of persons voting at the election must constitute not less than forty percent of the voters in the municipal corporation who voted at the last preceding general state election” [emphasis added]. This standard would appear to compare total citywide turnout in 2017 – including any undervotes or overvotes on the proposition itself – to total citywide turnout in 2016.

However, the state constitution in Article VII, Section 2(b) states that bond measures require authorization by a “majority of at least three-fifths of the voters of the taxing district voting on the proposition […] at which election the total number of voters voting on the proposition shall constitute not less than forty percent of the total number of voters voting in such taxing district at the last preceding general election” [emphasis added]. This more stringent standard would compare the number of votes on the propositionnot including any undervotes or overvotes – to total citywide turnout in 2016.

Ultimately, the city concluded that there was too much legal risk to proceed with bond issuance and re-submitted both measures to voters. This time, since the most recent general election is now the low-turnout 2017 election rather than the high-turnout 2016 presidential cycle, the validation threshold was much lower and the Pullman bonds appear to have cleared the validation threshold easily.

(Special thanks to our Legal Consultant Oskar Rey for providing me with analysis and guidance on this issue.)

Naches Fire Department Replacing Outdated Station

The all-volunteer Naches Fire Department – formally Yakima County Fire Protection District No. 3 – will be getting a new fire station after voters approved a 20-year, $1.85 million bond measure. The current fire station, which the department has used for the last 55 years, was originally built as a grocery store and has a number of significant safety and operational issues.

It appears the new station will be built on a plot of land that was just donated to the fire district by a local agricultural fruit company.

Lake Stevens Library Defeated

A proposed 20-year, $17 million bond measure to build a library in Lake Stevens was defeated. The measure required 60% approval but has only gotten 51%. An identical bond measure failed in February 2017; while it cleared the 60% threshold in that election, voter turnout was too low and the bond measure fell short of its validation requirements.

As a result of the two failed bond measures, under state law the Lake Stevens Library Capital Facility Area will be dissolved.

Grand Coulee TBD Sales Tax Passes

Voters in Grand Coulee easily approved a 0.2% transportation benefit district sales tax. The measure will raise an estimated $50,000 annually for street repair, an issue that became especially pressing following last year’s harsh winter.

Any Other Noteworthy Measures?

Are there any other measures we should be paying attention to? Leave a comment below or email me at

If you have questions about ballot measures or other local government issues, please use our Ask MRSC form or call us at (206) 625-1300 or (800) 933-6772.

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About Steve Hawley

Steve joined MRSC in July 2014 and is responsible for writing, editing, and conducting research for many of MRSC’s website resources, with a particular focus on local government finance, budgeting, ballot measures, and procurement. He has a broad communications and public policy background with over a decade of local government and nonprofit experience.