Broadband Planning Grant Sought

The mission of the Port of Columbia is to maximize public resources and private investment to create jobs, provide infrastructure, and maintain and improve the economic vitality of Columbia County.  As part of this mission, we work constantly to identify new opportunities for our community.

In March of 2018, one of these opportunities arrived when Substitute House Bill 2664 was signed in to law.  This bill gives ports in Washington State the authority to build broadband infrastructure in their jurisdictions.  This authority perfectly encompasses our role at the Port.  We can use the public resources to build a dark fiber line that any private internet service provider can lease to provide faster, more reliable internet to residents of Columbia County.

Quality high speed internet is a necessity if we want Columbia County to remain economically solvent.  Businesses will not locate in rural areas without access to good internet.  Employees will choose to live in other areas if they can’t get the speeds and reliability they need.  The large internet companies are not putting their resources in to rural America.  As often happens, rural America needs to help itself.

In a broadband survey conducted by the Port of Columbia in October 2018, we found that a majority of our community members were either unhappy with or wanted improvements to their existing internet options.  This knowledge, combined with the economic necessity of good internet, has led us to conclude that we need to consider taking advantage of the new authorities granted by HB 2664.  The Port of Columbia intends to apply for a planning grant from the Community Economic Revitalization Board to determine if a Port-built broadband network is the right choice for our community.

The feasibility study that results from this planning grant will answer a variety of questions about the construction of a broadband network.  First, it will examine our existing internet options and determine if additional infrastructure is even needed.  Second, it will look at the financial viability of such a project in Columbia County.  Third, it will analyze emerging internet technologies to make sure that a broadband network won’t be obsolete in the near future.  If the end result of the feasibility study supports the needs for Port-owned broadband infrastructure, then we will seek construction funds to build the network within the next year.

A few important things to note.  First, HB 2664 does not give ports the authority to become internet service providers.  Instead, we would be “building a toll road” of fiber that any private internet service provider can pay to use to provide internet service to their customers.  Essentially, the Port is taking on the construction, operations, and maintenance costs of the infrastructure, leaving ISPs to spend their time and money on improving their customers’ experience.

Second, the cost of construction, operations, and maintenance of a Port-owned broadband network will not be paid with Columbia County tax dollars.  Instead, the construction cost will be funded through state programs and operations and maintenance through the revenues from leases paid by the ISPs.

Finally, public input and partners is imperative to make this a successful project.  We’ll be convening a Community Broadband Team to help guide the planning process.  We’ll be holding a Community Broadband Meeting to hear input from residents and businesses on what your internet needs are and how new broadband infrastructure may meet them.  The goal of this project is to better serve Columbia County residents, and we look forward to hearing from all of you as this process continues.


Columbia County Tax Rates: How We All Benefit from New Business

At a recent public hearing regarding a conditional use permit for a proposed new business locating in Columbia County, two themes kept coming up that have caused the Port district concern. The first one was “How is this business helping the community?” and the second one was “The windmills have done nothing for us.”

The first statement was in regards to a potential blockchain business locating here. Many in the audience seemed to think that if the business didn’t provide something they could eat or buy, or didn’t create a lot of new jobs, it wasn’t providing any community benefit. Putting aside whether or not you approve of a blockchain, new businesses locating here do provide value to the community. How? By increasing the tax base, which is the total value of the land and assets of a county. As the tax base grows, the share each individual has to pay goes down. Or, if a community decides to tax themselves for additional services (like ours has), such as a hospital bond or an EMS levy, collecting the new revenue doesn’t cause our taxes to go up a huge amount. A larger tax base creates “room” in the tax pie for additional services.

This leads to the second concerning statement that the wind turbines have done nothing for our county. Nothing could be further from the truth! Besides creating 72 year-round, living-wage jobs with benefits and new revenue for landowners, the value of the wind farms has nearly quadrupled our tax base! This has dramatically reduced our tax rates (see Tax Rate chart.)

Here’s an example: The tax rate is the individual rate each of us pays per $1,000 in value of property we own. Let’s say your house value is $100,000. If you lived in the Delaney tax area in 2014, your total tax bill for the year would have been $1,114. If you lived in Waitsburg in a $100,000 home in 2014, your total tax bill would have been $1,371. That is a 23% difference! Ten years ago, before the wind industry came to Columbia County, your taxes on a house of the same value would have been $1,338 in the Delany tax area.

People will say “but my taxes have still gone up.” Yes, they have! Why? Several reasons. First, the value of real estate has gone up over the last 14 years, as it should. (We don’t want our houses to lose value, do we?) Also, we’ve passed several special levies as shown in the chart. We’ve been able to collect more revenue without huge tax increases. Finally, the state portion of the tax levies change. Your tax bill in 2018 went way up because the state had to change the way they funded schools. They increased their portion of the tax levy by a large margin. We had no control over that increase at the local level.

Our hope is that this tax chart will help explain how new and existing businesses help the community in many ways. The Port wants to continue to foster a pro-business atmosphere in Columbia County, and we need our citizens to help us do so.

Port seeks your input on broadband infrastructure

The Port of Columbia is interested in your experience with internet in Columbia County. Your responses will be used to determine if additional investment in broadband infrastructure is needed. The survey includes 10 questions and should take about 4 minutes to complete.
Please click here to take the survey, and share with your friends! The more input, the better!

Rural tax incentives pay off in a big way!

One of the significant advantages of having new industries invest in a community is the potential of an increased tax base.  In Columbia County, we have already seen the effects of this from one important industry – renewable energy.  Before the wind industry invested in Columbia County, our tax base was just over $286 million.  Ten years later, our tax base has risen to $868 million.  This is an increase of 227%.  A larger tax base means more revenue for local governments like cities, counties, library districts, fire districts, ports, and so on.  The tax base numbers make it clear:  when new businesses come to Columbia County, Columbia County benefits.

Read about how our newest industry, Columbia Pulp, will benefit Columbia County here.

Columbia County’s economic stars aligning

Attendance was high and news was positive at this year’s annual economic development strategy meeting for Columbia County.

Jobless rates are down, construction of Columbia Pulp has started, plans for walking and biking paths are taking shape and the county is working to address concerns for the future of the fairgrounds. Read full article here.

Industrial Park Space Available

The Rock Hill Industrial Park currently has one building available for lease.  This 3,360 sq. ft. building is zoned light industrial / fringe commercial.  Space includes five offices, reception desk, tech room, copier room, kitchen, conference space, two restrooms (one with shower), and attic storage space.  Also included is 72’x144′ fenced parking lot.  Rent is $1516 per month, including a 12.84% leasehold tax.  See spec sheet for more detail.