WALLA WALLA — City Council passed a number of expected increases to property taxes and service fees Wednesday, but those increases were not free of dissenting votes.
At issue was a one percent property tax increase set by Initiate 747. The state law allows cities to increase their property tax levy by one percent or a pricing index know as the Implicit Price Deflator, whichever is lower.
Since last year’s Implicit Price Deflator was minus-0.848 percent, city officials chose to enact a "substantial need" clause, which allowed the city to take a full one percent increase.
"To have not raised the tax would have been more symbolic because it doesn’t involved a lot of money for taxpayers or the city," said Council member Jim Barrow, who voted against the increase.
All Council members were present and the only other dissenting vote came from Dominick Elia.
"It’s just that it would be a good time not to increase property taxes, and we had an option not to do it," said Elia, who noted he favored keeping the rate the same level.
"I was told we could go anywhere in between, and we could have done a zero percent increase. I just thought it would be a nice gesture to the community that supported us with the police bond," he said.
City Council also passed increases to cemetery and building permit fees.
Barrow was the one dissenting vote for a three percent across-the-board fee increase at Mountain View Cemetery, with the exception of fees for veteran, child and infant graves, which will remain the same price.
And Council member Jerry Cummins was the one dissenting vote for a six percent across-the-board increase for Building Department fees.
"I don’t want my vote to be perceived as a vote against development. I just don’t think they did a good enough job of convincing me that these particular fees needed to be increased," Cummins said, noting he would have liked to have seen more discussions.
"There were no specific reasons for the specific increases and there was not a discussion of ways we could be more efficient or provide services more efficiently. It was just ‘we need more money so let’s raise the fees,’" Cummins said.
City Council did vote unanimously to increase property taxes to pay for the voter-approved new police facility, as well as increases to ambulance fees.