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Shortfalls loom as city OKs hike in property tax

Council approves one percent increase in city's tax.

Facing significant revenue shortfalls in its 2003 budget, the city of White Salmon City Council narrowly approved a one percent increase in the city's "ad valorem" tax for 2003.

A 3-2 vote to authorize the property tax increase came on Nov. 19.

According to Kelley Ingraham, the city's clerk/treasurer, the increase will bring in an estimated $2,193 in additional revenue for the city next year.

"State law limits us to one percent. That's as high as we can go," Ingraham said.

The current property tax rate for those living within the city limits of White Salmon is $1.886 per $1,000 of valuation.

According to Ingraham, the city may fall $250,000 short in its revenue needs for 2003, and the one percent tax hike won't make a lot of difference for a city budget that totaled $5.5 million for 2002.

Despite the projected shortfall, the council's vote was a controversial one.

"I have some difficulty in supporting any increase in taxes," said council member Tim Stone. "I know government is strapped and citizens are strapped. It kind of becomes a never ending battle to try to come up with more dollars."

Stone said he preferred to cut the budget rather than increase taxation.

"When I see the budget, it still has room for elimination of some items," Stone said. "In my opinion, this [tax increase] is a burden on the population."

Ingraham defended the increase by pointing to increased expenses the city needed to meet.

"One way to look at this, is it's needed to pay wages. City employees' wages alone went up 1.3 percent, and benefits costs are going up about 15 percent for medical," Ingraham said. "We do need the one percent increase to maintain."

When the vote was called, councilor Susan Benedict joined Stone in opposition to the increase.

Councilors Francis Gaddis, Penny White Morris, and Susan Gookin voted in support of it.

Despite the increase, the city continues to face a challenging situation regarding next year's budget, due to a reduction in revenue from the state and related factors.

"We're still short," Ingraham said. "The current expense fund is not balanced yet, and we'll have to make cuts to get it balanced."


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