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Voters asked to OK new city tax levy

Issue will be on general election ballot

In a bid to compensate for the loss of funding from the state and maintain current service levels, the city of White Salmon is asking for voter support of a "property tax levy lid lift" in the Nov. 2 general election.

If approved by voters, the city would increase property tax levies by about 1.5 percent for one year.

The formal ballot title voters will see reads as follows:

"Shall the city of White Salmon increase its current expense levy by $0.75 per $1,000 of assessed value for one year to be collected in 2005?"

By this measure, property with an assessed value of $100,000 in 2004 would pay an extra $90 in property tax in 2005.

"This is designed to help support the city's jobs and service levels," said Mayor Linda Jones.

According to an information sheet prepared by the city, the money would be directed to "all departments funded through the current expense fund -- police, fire, swimming pool, parks and recreation, and City Hall. There will be no new jobs added or major equipment items purchased. The additional revenue will be used to maintain jobs and our current level of services like keeping the swimming pool open for the summer."

The measure applies to taxation in the year 2005 only.

"This is just to get us through to 2006," Jones said. "Hopefully annexations will compensate for 2006 and beyond."

The city hopes to raise approximately $100,000 through the increased property tax levy.

Jones pointed out that the city was running out of options.

"This measure is what we're focusing on, then we'll have to be slashing our budget if it doesn't pass," Jones said. "There are no other revenues to work toward. It will be hard for us if this doesn't pass. We'll have to cut services or employment, and that's where I don't want to go. It's a little early to know where things will be cut. By the time of the election, we'll have a better idea."

Because it is a tax measure, however, the levy requires a supermajority of at least 60 percent to gain passage.

According to city officials, the revenue shortfall faced by White Salmon can be traced back to the passage of Initiative 695 in 1999. The initiative reduced the amount of vehicle license tab fees that were directed to municipalities around the state.

While the city has been getting less money from the state, the cost of supplies, utilities, and employee salaries have nevertheless continued to increase. In one of the biggest budget hits, insurance premiums for city employees climbed 20 percent in 2004.

"We don't know yet how much our health care costs are going to go up next year for our employees," Jones said. "This year insurance costs were up 20 percent; it was huge for us."

Not all members of the White Salmon City Council were supportive of asking voters to support a property tax increase.

Council member Penny White Morris said she believes asking for more in taxes breaks faith with local citizens.

"I feel like it's almost a breach of what we had promised when we raised the city sales tax [by 0.5 percent] in 2003," Morris said. "We said we weren't going to be doing any more raising. We're also going to be raising the water rates soon. We're at the point where we're breaking the backs of our citizens, and that's wrong. But we keep finding ourselves in a bind financially."

Morris, who works at Skyline Hospital, also questioned the timing of the city tax measure.

"This is at the same time the hospital is asking for funding," she explained. "I think it's unfortunate, because I believe it's time for the hospital to grow. But I feel now that the two issues are both on the ballot, people will be disgusted and vote `no' on both. It's very unfortunate."

Morris pointed out that the city is in the budget process for 2005 right now. She described the situation as "grim."

"It's a gloomy reflection of the overall economy right now," Morris said. "I don't know what the answer is; I wish I did. Perhaps a new president would help."

The property tax levy measure will be on the ballot only for voters living within the city of White Salmon.

"I encourage people with questions to call Kelly at City Hall," said Mayor Jones. "She can help determine what your tax rate would be, and answer any questions."

The telephone number for City Hall is 493-1133.


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