Walla Walla City Council nixes rate increases

Several hikes were rejected, but a property tax levy increase was approved on Wednesday.

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WALLA WALLA -- A City Council discussion over tax and fee increases for next year reached heated levels at Wednesday's meeting.

Council members narrowly defeated a proposed landfill fee hike, narrowly passed a one percent increase in the property tax-funded levy, and refused to take any action on a proposed five percent increase for Development Services.

Council members did, however, unanimously approve increasing ambulance fees and restructuring overdue fees for the library. All Council members were present.

Staff had asked for across-the-board increases of nine percent for landfill rates and six percent for sanitation rates, which would have raised the cost for the standard residential 96-gallon curbside service from $19.04 to $20.20 a month.

Council member Dominick Elia, who has often been critical of the city's inability to curb rate increases, blasted staff for failing to make cuts as the private sector is forced to do.

"We assume that those folks ought to pay whatever our expense ought to be. And that is just not the way businesses work," Elia said, shortly before he and Council members Jerry Cummins, Shane Laib and Conrado Cavazos voted against the rate increase, defeating Mayor Barbara Clark and Council members Jim Barrow and Fred Mitchell.

A silent blow was given to a proposal by Development Services for an across-the-board five percent increase.

Staff reported that over the last several years the department has been trying to ramp up rates by 35 percent to bring them in line with a real-cost analysis performed in 2004. But Council members were wary of increasing building fees when construction is down and when the agency is about to merge with the county's agency.

Cummins also questioned why the department chose not to change the rates based on each service's true costs.

"Before, we have justified on a line-by-line item ... but just to come in on a flat 5 percent, everything has to be raised, I am not comfortable with that. It looks like we are increasing just to raise fees," Cummins said.

When it came time to take action on the increase, all Council members were silent. Without a motion to approve, the increase died.

As for the property tax levy, a one percent increase narrowly passed, with Clark, Barrow, Mitchell and Cavazos voting for the increase, and Laib, Elia and Cummins against.

Two property tax levies were also unanimously approved by Council. They were for payment of voter-approved bonds for Fire Station Two and construction of the new police station.

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

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