Walla Walla Council makes solid calls on fees

City Council members took a thoughtful approach in rejecting some fee hikes and adopting others.

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The Walla Walla Council -- like every city council and county commission in Washington state -- faces some very tough decisions.

The Great Recession continues to gnaw at tax collections, leaving local governments with too few dollars to fund next year what could be funded this year. That mean spending must be reduced, taxes increased or a combination of both.

Last week Walla Walla City Council members were asked to raise taxes and fees relating to property, garbage, building construction and a few other areas.

The Council members did their jobs well. They took a thoughtful approach to the issues and, we believe, made the right call on the questions before them.

City officials had recommended an 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 led the charge against the rate increase arguing the private sector is forced to make cuts and the city should do the same. The Council, by a 4-3 vote, agreed with Elia.

The city utility bill has been going up and it will continue to go up because of agreed-upon rate hikes to reconstruct the failing pipes city under the streets. Adding another hike as people are coping with the lousy economy is just too much.

And we also think Council members made the right call in vetoing a hike in building and permit fees by not taking action.

The city was looking for a five percent across-the-board rate increase for services provided by the Development Services (planning department).

Council members wisely scoffed at the idea for two very good reasons. They didn't see the need to increase building fees when construction is down and when the city's planning department is in the midst of merging with the county's planning department.

Council member Jerry Cummins also railed, and with good reason, that the proposed rate increases should have been based on the actual cost of those specific services rather than a flat five percent.

"It looks like we are increasing just to raise fees," Cummins said.

But Council did approve some fees and a tax. It unanimously approve increasing ambulance fees and restructuring overdue fees for the library. The increases were justified and reasonable.

And the Council, by a 4-3 vote, gave the OK to collect one percent more in property tax next year. That does not necessarily mean individual property owners will see a one percent increase in their taxes. Those rates are adjusted annually based on what the home was valued at by the County Assessor's Office. This move will have a relatively small impact on individual home owners but will provide a significant revenue to the city.

The Council is going to have to make some deep cuts in the weeks ahead, and that means some difficult decisions. Last week's decisions were hard. Council members made them prudently.

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