Council split on property tax hike

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WALLA WALLA — After four failed votes, City Council couldn’t agree Wednesday night whether to take or bank an $87,329 increase on next year’s property tax levy.

“People don’t want to pay more taxes right now,” Mayor Jim Barrow said, pointing out to his colleagues that all five

statewide advisory tax repeals in Tuesday’s election received a majority vote by local voters, though only two were approved statewide.

“I am acutely aware of the results of the overall elections and ballot measures that we have seen reported on in the newspaper. In every single one of those, the vote in this community and this county was to repeal,” Barrow said.

In the next three weeks, the Council must decide ifitwilltakea1percent increase allowed by the state law, which would net the city an additional $50,476. The Council also has the option of adding an additional $36,853 in property taxes that derive from new construction in 2013.

If the proposed full increase is taken, the city’s general fund would bump up to $5,134,877 in 2014.

The additional taxes would cost the owner of a $200,000 home about $8 a year in new property taxes.

“At some point we need to face the music that if we want to run a quality city we need to fund these things,” Council Member Chris Plucker said, who was joined by Barbara Clark in a push for the full increase.

“Our costs continue to rise and we got to find a

way to offset them,” Plucker added.

The first motion to approve the increase came from Council Member Jerry Cummins — who was joined in support by Council Member Shane Laib — but Cummins motion also stipulated that the $87,329 increase only be used for roads. That motion was defeated by Council members Mary Lou Jenkins, Plucker, Clark and Barrow.

What followed was a motion by Plucker to take the full increase of $87,329 with no stipulations. That motion split 3-3, with Barrow, Jenkins and Cummins voting against it.

Council Member Conrado Cavazos was absent.

Third and fourth motions were made by Clark and Plucker. Both failed.

Clark first motioned to move the 1 percent increase into banked levy — which can later be added to future property tax levies — and to take only the new construction increase of $36,853. Had it been approved, that result would have been no increase or decrease in the property tax rate. Clark stood alone as her motion was defeated 1-5.

Then Plucker moved to put the entire increase in banked levy, which would have resulted in slight decrease in property taxes for 2014.

Laib, Cummins and Jenkins voted against the final motion, with Laib questioning if the city was putting the cart before the horse by asking for a levy vote before the entire Council had

reviewed the 2014 budget.

“I think we are moving in haste. Some of us have not seen the budget, have not seen how this money needs to be spent. And I think hastily banking this money without taking a look at the whole pie is not in the best interest of the city,” Laib said.

The Council will review the 2014 budget at a work session on Nov. 18 from 4-6 p.m. at City Hall, 315 N. Third Ave. Then on Nov. 20 the Council will make a decision on the levy rate at their regular meeting.

The property tax levy amount must be approved and provided to County officials by Nov. 30.

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