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City Oks Sales Tax Extension

With no fanfare and no oppposition, council votes

With little fanfare and no visible opposition from the public, the White Salmon City Council voted to authorize a one-year extension of the added sales tax.

On the evening of Oct. 15, the council members considered whether to extend the additional one-half percent sales and use tax for purchases within the city limits of White Salmon.

The added sales tax was first enacted in December 2002 to help the city cover its 2003 budget. The decision boosted the sales tax on all goods purchased within the city limits from 7.0 percent to 7.5 percent. Last week's decision by the county means the 7.5 percent rate will remain in place for at least another year.

The increase took effect on April 1, 2003, and was expected to raise approximately $100,000 in added revenue for the city.

Mayor Roger Holen said he had seen no harmful impact on the city's businesses since the tax was approved.

"There had been concern that this would have a deleterious effect on the city, but that fear was unfounded," said Holen. "There are a lot of businesses whose revenues are up as opposed to down."

Holen explained that with the continuing down economy across the nation, the budgetary boost the extra one-half percent in sales tax provided to the city was important.

"I recommend the extension," Holen said.

Holen pointed out that 92 percent of the cities and counties across Washington have sales and use taxes that are higher than the 7.5 percent tax White Salmon has.

"We have a lower property tax rate than either Bingen or Klickitat County," Holen added. "We are not overtaxing our citizens, but are providing very good services for the revenue we collect."

Council member Tim Stone expressed reservations about the proposal.

"When we voted on this in the past, we agreed to look at it to see if other sources of revenue were available. I'd like to see us go toward an aggressive annexation campaign instead," Stone said.

Holen said he too would like to see more annexations, now that a statewide legal challenge to the way annexations were executed had been resolved.

"I second your sentiments on an annexation campaign. Annexations are now legal once again, and we will move in that direction," Holen said.

Stone added that he believed it was difficult to measure the impact of the extra tax or determine its impact on tourism in the city over just one year.

"I suppose in favor of the tax would be the fact that we haven't had a lot of citizen input on the issue," Stone said. "But the flip side is that this came up rather suddenly, and no one knew it would be on the agenda in advance. If I didn't know in advance, how could the businesses or anyone else know in advance?"

The motion to extend the sales tax for another year came from Francis Gaddis.

Saying he was undecided on the measure, Stone sought to abstain from voting. But the city attorney, Deborah Phillips, advised him that abstentions were intended to be used in the event of a conflict of interest or some other substantial reason for not casting a vote.

"It's appropriate for you to vote," Phillips said.

"Well, my list of pros outweighs cons, 5-4," Stone said. "So I vote in favor."

The motion was approved 4-0.

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