PCC Frequently Asked Questions


quick jump links

The Problem

Property Tax Revenues
Sales Tax Revenues
Road Funds
Impact Fees

Why the GMA
Growth Management Act Vision
Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC)
PRSC Multicounty Planning Policies (MMP)

1. The Problem

As unincorporated areas within the urban growth areas (UGAs) develop, sooner or later they should be incorporated or be annexed to an adjoining city in order for those jurisdictions to more efficiently provide public services. The GMA does not differentiate between annexations and incorporations, and there are now a lot of new small cities with financial problems, making countywide and regional agreements more difficult.

There are various political and economic forces that affect incorporation or annexation. Residents of the affected area may feel they will pay higher taxes and/or lose their rural lifestyle. Or, either the county or the city will most likely be better off at the end of the process based on whether the area to be annexed or incorporated requires a high level of services and does not generate a comparable amount of revenue. Or, people feel a sense of community in their small area and don’t want to become part of a larger community.

Despite GMA’s clear mandate that communities should provide for adequate public facilities to accommodate growth, local plans and funding programs appear to fall short. One apparent result is that cities are slow to annex urbanizing areas because annexation requires a commitment to provide urban services.

While “counties made significant progress in the initial years less than half of the designated unincorporated UGA has been annexed (as of 2004).” A major reason has been economic, since it generally costs cities more to provide services to new residential areas than those areas generate in revenues. In 2006, the state created “a new financial incentive for annexation.” The legislation, SSB 6686, allows certain cities in the largest urban areas to impose a sales or use tax, taken as a credit against the state sales tax (so there is no additional tax to the consumer), when the city annexes an area with a large population.

Property Tax Revenues
Since property taxes are value-based, the basic funding to cover their requirements, but that Initiative 695 and other funding initiatives in recent years have gutted local ability to pay for those requirements.

Silverdale in Kitsap County is an unincorporated area, the county’s major shopping center and its predominate sales tax revenue source. If Silverdale incorporates, the county would lose a major source of its operating budget revenues.

Sales Tax Revenues
Because every county gets sales tax revenues from rural commercial sales, the county may feel it has a vested interest in siting commercial development out in the rural areas rather than within the urban areas.

In the Spokane area, according to Todd Mielke, County Commissioner and to Al French, City of Spokane Councilmember, a Costco store at the edge of the urban growth area is a contentious annexation issue because of its high sales tax revenues and low service costs. The county has a financial interest in keeping it out in the unincorporated area and the city would like to annex it. The city feels it has a strong case because it already furnishes the services to that small area. Wal-Mart has applied to build either in Spokane or across the street, in the unincorporated county. Al French points out that if the store is built in the county, the county gets the sales tax revenues but the city still must take much of the costs—schools, traffic, and so forth.

In Jefferson County, according to Sandoval, “the cities and the county are cannibalizing each other over sales tax,” and she does not think there is a lot of hope for a working relationship in the future, because, as she puts it, “we’re fighting for the crumbs.” Sandoval points out that in the 1990s, there was enough state and federal help that trickled down to give local jurisdictions basic funding to cover their requirements, but that Initiative 695 and other funding initiatives in recent years have gutted local ability to pay for those requirements.

Silverdale in Kitsap County is an unincorporated area, the county’s major shopping center and its predominate sales tax revenue source. If Silverdale incorporates, the county would lose a major source of its operating budget revenues.

Road Funds
Counties and cities both receive a proportion of state-collected funds for roads. As Al French points out, when a city incorporates, the county loses the requirement for responsibility for that area of roads but continues to receive its usual portion of county road funds. The new city now gets its share of the funds that cities get—and the other cities get a smaller portion than before. As French puts it, “the dollars should follow the demand.”

Impact Fees
Part of the expense of development can be a required payment of some level of impact fees to the local jurisdiction, although there is major disagreement on what the real costs of those impacts are and who should pay them.

The impact of growth includes increased requirements for roads and public transportation, for fire and police protection, for libraries, jails, courts…the list goes on. Only some of the costs of those impacts can be charged to the new growth, since Washington limits both the amount of impact fees that cities can charge, and the services for which they can be charged. The fees can be used “to pay for public facilities needed to serve new growth and development, and that (are) reasonably related to the new development that creates additional demand and need for public facilities, that (are) a proportionate share of the cost of the public facilities, and that (are) used for facilities that reasonably benefit the new development.”

A recent Washington Supreme Court decision allows impact fees to fund the infrastructure in a broader geographical area, for system-wide improvements of transportation problems, rather than being required to fund only within the previously narrowly defined project areas. If the development is outside an urban area, the required level of service and therefore the costs of impact are generally lower than inside city limits.

The affected jurisdiction, whether rural or urban, requires only a portion of those costs to be covered by developer impact fees, and often those costs refer only to requirements for some mitigation for problems created by increased traffic. San Juan County in 2004 received the results of a county-wide study assessing
the costs of providing public services to three types of land: residential, commercial, and open space/agricultural. The costs of providing public services to these lands was compared with the revenues generated from these lands, primarily from property taxes, sales taxes, and various fees.

“For every $1.00 of revenue generated by residential property in San Juan County in Fiscal Year 2001, an average of $1.32 was spent providing public services to the property and its residents. In contrast, for every $1.00 of farm and open space tax revenue received, only $0.38 of public services were provided, while for commercial property the ratio was $1.00 of revenue for a mere $0.30 in services.”

Many people assume that developers’ fees cover much of the transportation infrastructure costs of growth, but according to McDonnell, for Vancouver those fees cover only 40-50% of the City’s costs and the public must in one way or another fund the rest. He says “What the public thinks is that you can put all of the growth on the private development and there isn’t this public share of the cost…So if a developer comes in and says here’s my million (in required impact fees), (we) have inherited a public debt with no real assurance…the fees are really setting (our) priorities. And if (we) don’t match it within a certain timeframe, they get it back.”

Because funding drives development, funding sources are a very important consideration to jurisdictions as they plan under the Growth Management Act. Those sources also strongly affect the resulting comprehensive plan.

2. Why the GMA?

The legislature finds that uncoordinated and unplanned growth, together with a lack of common goals expressing the public’s interest in the conservation and the wise use of our lands, pose a threat to the environment, sustainable economic development, and the health, safety, and high quality of life enjoyed by residents of this state.
Growth Management Act, 1990 RCW 36.70A.010 Legislative findings.

3. The Growth Management Act Vision?

The regional physical form required by the Act is a compact urban landscape, well designed and well furnished with amenities, encompassed by natural resource lands and rural landscape.
Bremerton et al v. Kitsap County, CPSGMHB, Case No. 95-3-0039c, Final Decision and Order 31. October 6, 1995

4. What is the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC)?

Puget Sound Regional Council’s (1956 to present) responsibilities include the federal Metropolitan Planning  Organization and state Regional Transportation Planning Organization. The work program is divided into three areas: regional transportation, growth and economic planning, technical and data services, and administrative services.

5. What are PRSC Multicounty Planning Policies (MMP)?

Multicounty Planning Policies (MMP) provide an integrated framework for addressing land use, economic development, transportation, other infrastructure, and environmental planning. These policies play three key roles:
(1) give direction for implementing the Regional Growth Strategy,
(2) create a common framework for planning at various levels within the four-county region, including countywide planning, local plans, transit agency plans, and others, and
(3) provide the policy structure for the Regional Council’s functional plans (the Metropolitan Transportation Plan and the Regional Economic Strategy).

6. What is the PSRC VISION 2040?

VISION 2040 is a regional strategy for accommodating the 5 million people expected to live in the region by 2040.
The Washington State Growth Management Act (GMA) established 13 broad goals to guide the policy development of local comprehensive plans. VISION 2040 provides the multicounty policy framework required by GMA to meet these goals at the regional, county, and local government levels.
All levels of government in the central Puget Sound’s four counties (King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish) will use VISION 2040 as a regional framework for making local decisions.

7. What are Pierce County Code Chapter 19D.240 PIERCE COUNTY COUNTYWIDE PLANNING POLICIES?

The Countywide Planning Policies are to be used for establishing a countywide framework form which the comprehensive plans for Pierce County and the cities and towns within Pierce County are developed and adopted. One of the most important planning tenets expressed in the Growth Management Act is the consistency requirement.

A second planning tenet which the Growth Management Act promotes is concurrency — i.e., that concept that public facilities and services necessary to serve new development at adopted level of service standards are actually available at the time of development.

The Pierce County Countywide Planning Policies (CPPs) must be consistent with the Puget Sound Regional Council’s (PSRC) Multicounty Planning Policies (MPPs). The most recent set of these is set forth in PSRC’s VISION 2040, which specifically requires that the Pierce County Countywide Planning Policies be updated, where necessary, by December 31, 2010, to address the MPPs in VISION 2040. The Countywide Planning Policies should also be updated to address changes in the Growth Management Act language and interpretation that have taken place since the original adoption of the Countywide Planning Policies in 1995. The 2009 update to those provisions of the Washington Administrative Code that provide guidance for implementation of the Growth Management Act should be of assistance in identifying Growth Management Act changes and requirements. It should also be noted that Federal agencies and Indian tribes may participate in and cooperate with the countywide planning policy adoption process and that adopted countywide planning policies must be adhered to by state agencies. RCW 36.70A.210(4)

(Ord. 2014-48 § 1, 2014; Ord. 2011-35s § 2 (part), 2011; Ord. 2011-34s § 2 (part), 2011; Ord. 2009-70s § 1, 2009; Ord. 2005-52s § 1, 2005; Ord. 2004-16s § 2, 2004)

ORDINANCE NO. 2014-17s Potential Annexation Areas and Annexation
As to the timing and sequencing of urban growth and development over the 20-year planning period, urban growth shall occur first in areas already characterized by urban growth that have existing public facility and service capacities to service such development, second in areas already characterized by urban growth that will be served by a combination of both existing public facilities and services and any additional needed public facilities and services that are provided by either public or private sources [RCW 36.70A110(3)]. Urban government services shall be provided primarily by cities, and it is not appropriate that urban governmental services be extended to or expanded in rural areas except in those limited circumstances shown to be necessary to protect basic public health and safety and environment, and when such services are financially supportable at rural densities and do not permit urban development [RCW 36.70A110(4)].

The Growth Management Act Amendments expressly require that countywide planning policies address the implementation of UGA designations [RCW 36.70A210(3)(a)], the promotion of contiguous and orderly development, the provision of urban services to such development [RCW 36.70A.21 O(3)(b)], and the coordination of joint county and municipal planning within UGAs [RCW 36.70A210(3)(f)].

ORDINANCE NO. 2014-48 Pierce County Countywide Planning to Incorporate Criteria for the Designation of Centers of Local Importance (CoLI).


8.GLOSSARY (Courtesy of The League of Women Voters of Washington)

Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU)

Best Available Science

Best means that within the evidence contained in the record, a local government must make choices based upon the scientific information presented to it…
Available means not only that evidence must be contained in the record, but also that the science must be practically and economically feasible…
Science is a process involving methods used to understand the workings of the natural world. This process consists of six characteristics: peer review by other qualified experts in that discipline, methodology that can be replicated, logical conclusions and reasonable inferences, quantitative analysis, proper context to frame the assumptions, and references. ”

Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO)

All cities and counties, whether or not they are planning under the GMA, are required to adopt development regulations to protect critical areas within their jurisdiction. – RCW 36.70A.060 (2). Critical areas are defined as: wetlands; areas with a critical recharging effect on aquifers used for potable water; fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas; frequently flooded areas; and geologically hazardous areas. – RCW 36.70A.030 (5).


Concurrency is a requirement of the GMA prohibiting developments that cause the level of service in locally owned transportation facilities to decline below what is set forth in the transportation element of that jurisdiction’s comprehensive plan. Local jurisdictions can meet that requirement with alternative transportation strategies and/or by making a financial commitment to make improvements or implement strategies that restore the level of service to be consistent with the comp plan. – RCW 36.70A.070 (6) (b).

Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Growth Management Act (GMA)

Washington’s Growth Management Act was enacted in 1990 and 1991. The legislative findings upon which the GMA is based include: “uncoordinated and unplanned growth, together with a lack of common goals expressing the public’s interest in the conservation and the wise use of our lands, pose a threat to the environment, sustainable economic development, and the health, safety and high quality of life enjoyed by residents of this state;” “citizens, local governments, and the private sector (should) coordinate with one another in comprehensive land use planning;” “economic development programs (should) be shared with communities experiencing insufficient economic growth;” and recognition of “the importance of rural lands and rural character to Washington’s economy, its people, and its environment, while respecting regional differences.

Growth management hearings boards

Impact fees


This term includes three words: internal, framework, and structure. In growth management usage it generally refers to transportation elements (roads, railways, airports, etc.), utilities (water, sewers, electricity, telephone service, etc.) and other services (waste collection, flood and fire protection, etc.)

Level of Service (LOS)

Level of service is a term used by transportation planners and decision makers to determine desired levels of traffic volume, speed, safety, and other factors, in the process of planning and managing growth.

Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO)

Metropolitan areas greater than 50,000 persons must have a metropolitan planning organization (MPO) under federal law.  This designation is made by the Governor and must have the concurrence of local government officials representing 75 percent of the population within the area, including the central city; or as otherwise provided for by state or local law.  The formation of MPOs is a precondition for receiving federal highway and transit funds.  There are currently 13MPOs in Washington State. Federal law requires MPOs to develop a metropolitan transportation plan with a 20 year horizon, and a three-year financially constrained transportation improvement program.  Federal law also requires MPOs to have a transportation policy board which includes local elected officials, officials of agencies that administer or operate major modes or transportation systems and appropriate state officials.

Local jurisdiction

Real Estate Excise Tax (REET)

Regional Transportation Planning Organization

State law authorizes local governments to voluntarily form regional transportation planning organizations (RTPOs).  In urbanized areas, an RTPO and MPO are one and the same entity. Metropolitan Planning Organizations and Regional Transportation Planning Organizations

Shoreline Management Act (SMA)

Shoreline Management Act guidelines

Urban Growth Area (UGA)

In the process of developing the comprehensive plans and their updates, the counties, in cooperation with the cities, decide on the Urban Growth Areas, the areas adjacent to the existing urban areas where future high density urban growth is supposed to occur. Low density rural development is supposed to occur outside of the UGA.

Urban Growth Boundary (UGB)

This is the boundary line that separates the urban growth area from the rural area.

Washington Community Trade & Economic Development (CTED)


9. ACRONYMS / ABBREVIATIONS (Courtesy of The League of Women Voters of Washington)

ADU:  Accessory Dwelling Units

AMIRD:  Areas of More Intense Rural Development

BAS:  Best Available Science

BMP:  Best Management Practice

CAO:  Critical Areas Ordinance

CARA:  Critical Aquifer Recharge Area

CTED:  Community, Trade & Economic Development, Department of

DOE:  Department of Ecology

GMA:  Growth Management Act

GMHB:  Growth Management Hearings Board

LAMIRD: Limited Areas of More Intensive Rural Development

LOS:  Level of Service

MPO:  Metropolitan Planning Organization

OFM:  Office of Financial Management

PDR:  Purchase of Development Rights

PUD:  Planned Unit Development

RAID:  Rural Areas of Intense Development

RTPO:  Regional Transportation Planning Organization

SCS:  Soil Conservation Service

SMA:  Shoreline Management Act

SMP:  Shoreline Master Program

TDR:  Transfer of Development Rights

UGA:  Urban Growth Area

UGB:  Urban Growth Boundary


Share This