WALLA WALLA — A proposed $87,328 tax increase had City Council debating more than an hour over whether to accept it, where the money should go or if any increase should be made in the 2014 property tax levy.
At the end of the almost three-hour work session Monday, a majority of Council members, some reluctantly, agreed that staff should prepare a tax increase resolution that will likely be approved at the regular City Council meeting on Wednesday.
“That money has to be put in streets. I don’t know what else to say,” said Council member Shane Laib, the most opposed to the tax increase.
This year’s property tax increase has been a contentious issue for Council, which voted four times at its Nov. 6 meeting over what property tax to approve for next year. Failed were motions that would have included the full tax increase but restricted it to roads, a full unrestricted increase, an increase of only new construction and no increase.
At Monday’s work session, under pressure to come up with an agreement by the county Assessor’s Office Nov. 30 deadline, Council members Barbara Clark, Mary Lou Jenkins and Chris Plucker said they would support Council member Jerry Cummins’ compromise proposal to dedicate $50,475 of the increase to roads while putting the remaining $36,853 in the general fund.
Council member Shane Laib maintained a staunch resistance to any increase that was not dedicated to roads.
Mayor Jim Barrow and Council member Conrado Cavazos were absent.
At the other end of the debate was Plucker, who pushed for the full increase with no restrictions so the money could be used to aid a number of underfunded city programs.
“I want to be clear that this city has many, many needs outside of streets. And should we have not marked that money for streets, that there are respectable places for that money to go. This is not money that is going to be wasted,” Plucker said.
If the $87,328 increase is approved on Wednesday, the city’s property tax levy for next year will be $5,134,877. The increase would consist of the 1 percent hike allowed by state law and revenue from new construction.
City officials estimate the $83,328 taxes would cost about $4 in additional property taxes for the owner of a $100,000 home.
As for the reason staff gave for requesting the full increase, Deputy City Manager Tim McCarty reported the city is looking at several major cost increases in 2014, including an increase of up to 2 percent in salaries for police and firefighters as current union negotiations are settled.
McCarty also reminded Council that since voters in 1999 passed Initiative 695 — which eliminated or reduced a number of fees and taxes associated with vehicles and license tabs — many cities across the state, including Walla Walla, have faced growing deficits over the past 14 years.
“When the staff comes forward with the recommendation to take the 1 percent, you know really we are trying to stop the flow, stop the bleeding to some extent. We got a long way to go to backfill another two-and-a-half million dollars when we were at time when we could afford to do more with streets,” McCarty said.
The 2014 property tax will be voted on at the regular Council Council meeting, Wednesday 7 p.m. at City Hall, 15 N. Third Avenue.
Alfred Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8325.