County approves 2017-18 budget, raises water taxi levy, fares to sustainable level

* The original version of this story contained an error about the new levy rate. It has been corrected.

The King County Council earlier this month passed an $11.4 billion budget and secured the existence of the water taxi system by increasing the levy that funds it and increasing fares.

Fares have been raised every two years since 2010 and the increases are “a consistent practice,” according to Carrie Avila-Mooney, King County Council Chair Joe McDermott’s legislative aide. Beginning Jan. 1, 2018, the base fare for Vashon will be $6.75. The base prepaid fare will be $5.75. Youth, low-income and senior-disabled fares will increase 25 cents.

As proposed by King County Executive Dow Constantine earlier in the budget process, the ferry district property tax — which funds the West Seattle and Vashon water taxis — will be increased from its current rate of one-third of 1 cent per $1,000 of assessed home value, to 1.25 cents per $1,000. The county’s Metro transit levy will be decreased proportionately as to not raise overall property taxes.

County officials say the ferry district levy increase will generate $9.2 million over the next two years. However, officials also said the county’s marine division will “likely need future property tax increases to continue operations,” but increases are not expected to happen until after 2022.

McDermott, who represents West Seattle and Vashon on the county council, said in a statement that the water taxi is “an important regional transportation solution.”

“The water taxi is crucial to easing traffic in and out of West Seattle and clogged roads downtown,” he said.

The taxi has been seeing increased ridership in recent years and set a new annual record this year. In mid-October, county officials reported ridership had surpassed last year’s record of 515,000 boardings.

County Department of Transportation officials estimate ridership is expected to top 600,000 by year’s end.