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Council Votes Down Property Tax Hike

2-2 deadlock stops proposal

Riled by a proposal to raise property tax rates just days after voters overwhelmingly shot down a similar plan on the ballot, several citizens turned out to voice their dismay to the White Salmon City Council.

At the Nov. 17 council meeting, citizens reminded members of the council that the voters' wishes should not be dismissed.

"We don't see cuts, we don't see layoffs. All we see is your hand out for more," White Salmon resident Daren Kenoyer said. "The voters have said no."

Another White Salmon resident, Brad Roberts, also addressed the council.

"We're spending ourselves silly. I'd like the council to know there is a faction out there that does not agree with increased spending. It's way out of control," Roberts said. "You need to rein in expenditures, even if it means laying off people. As a private businessman, I have to make cuts. Look deep and look hard. We're spending too much money."

Kelly Ingraham, White Salmon's clerk/treasurer, pointed out to the council members that the city's ballot measure -- rejected by approximately 74 percent of the voters on Nov. 2 -- was different from the one percent increase being proposed.

"The ballot measure was for an additional 75 cents on top of the one percent," Ingraham explained. "We've been doing one percent increase as allowed by law for the last several years. It does not require a vote of the people. The voters voted no on the additional 75 cents, but that question doesn't really have anything to do with the ordinance before you tonight."

Ingraham said the city had trouble meeting the 2004 budget, and conditions were not improving.

"Last year was very hard, and next year is going to be even worse," Ingraham said.

If approved, the additional one percent in sales tax revenues would go into the city's general fund, which pays for police operations, the fire department, parks, "basically all aspects of city operations," according to Ingraham.

"This is the only way to increase property taxes besides annexation," Ingraham noted. "The cost of living is going up faster than one percent a year."

Shirley Cox, another White Salmon resident at the council meeting, rejected Ingraham's argument. She read a statement directed to the council members.

"Just 15 days ago, the voters of this city gave you a very clear message: No new or increased taxes. You have a decision to go against those wishes or you can listen to that message," Cox said. "The voters trusted you to carry out the management of this city. Should you go against that trust tonight, you will only widen an already increasing gulf of mistrust and lack of confidence in this body. With every rate increase, no matter how `minor,' it puts another portion of our population closer to being on the streets. There are citizens who every day have to make the decision to buy groceries or have heat. Just because it's `allowed' doesn't make it right. I hope each and every one of you listens to what the voters said. They really meant it."

Before a vote was taken, council member Richard Marx also reminded the councilors of the Nov. 2 vote against the property tax levy.

"As these citizens have said, they need a break," Marx said.

"The citizens need a break, but I also believe that what is interpreted by that vote is an assumption. This vote tonight is a separate issue," responded council member Penny White Morris.

Marx pointed out that the voters deserved to have a say in issues that will affect them.

"They're always welcome to come here and talk to us," Morris said.

"They are here," Marx responded.

"We've spoken," added Kenoyer from the audience.

When the vote was called for, council members Susan Gookin and Francis Gaddis supported a motion to raise the "ad valorem" taxes by one percent for 2005. Councilors Richard Marx and Penny White Morris voted against the motion, creating a 2-2 deadlock. As a result, the measure was not approved.

Councilor Susan Benedict was not present for the session.

Although Mayor Linda Jones was present, parliamentary rules stipulated that she was not allowed to vote to break the tie.

"I can't vote to break the tie on that type of ordinance," Jones said.

"At least three council members have to vote in the affirmative to pass an ordinance," explained Ingraham.

On Monday, Jones said she was concerned about the city's budget over the next year.

"It's going to be tough," she said. "We're scrimping with the budget right now."

Faced with a revenue shortfall for 2005, Jones said the city would look at where additional cuts could be made.

"I've directed department heads to look at their budget, and see where they could recommend cuts to the city's Budget Committee," Jones explained.

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