Faced with what is being characterized as a serious budget crunch in 2004, the city of White Salmon intends to ask local residents for approval to boost property taxes for 2005.
The measure calls for taxes to go up by an additional 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value for 2005.
On the evening of Sept. 15, the White Salmon City Council voted 3-1 to put an increase of the city's ad valorem tax on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.
"The city's general fund is under major budgetary constraints," read an excerpt from the resolution calling for a vote on the proposed tax measure.
If approved by voters with the city limits, the measure would raise approximately $100,000 in added revenue for 2005. The enhanced city income would come by way of an additional 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed value of property taxes for local property owners.
According to Kelly Ingraham, the city's clerk/treasurer, the added tax would be in effect for calendar year 2005 only.
"This is for one year, then it reverts back," Ingraham explained. "This will get us an additional $100,000. That's how I came up with the 75 cent increase. It would be a one time, one year thing."
Several of the council members were skeptical of the proposed increase in the tax rate.
"Why do we need it," questioned councilor Susan Benedict. "Is it just a general budget increase?"
"Last year was extremely tight, and we expect more of that next year," Ingraham responded. "We were at bare bones this year. The only other options are either to lose jobs or have to cut city services. For example, the swimming pool costs $35,000 to operate. That's not a lot, but still, we don't have to spend that $35,000."
The measure that will appear on the ballot for White Salmon voters will read as follows:
"Shall the city of White Salmon increase its current expense levy by $0.75 per thousand dollars of assessed value for one year to be collected in 2005?"
Ingraham pointed out that any tax increase of more than one percent has to be approved with a vote of the people, and the city is proposing a 1.5 percent hike.
"The deadline to put this on the ballot is this week," Ingraham said. "All I'm asking is to put it on the ballot and let the voters decide."
"You want us to decide tonight? That's kind of tough," Benedict said.
"The issue is, do you want to put it on the ballot, and let the public say yes or no," Ingraham said.
Council member Ricky Marx said he could go along with that approach.
"Let the public decide," Marx said. "We're not making the ultimate decision. Put it out there for the people to decide."
When the vote was called, council members Susan Gookin, Ricky Marx, and Francis Gaddis voted to OK placing the measure on the ballot this fall. Susan Benedict voted against the proposal.
White Salmon Mayor Linda Jones said there was a definite need for added revenue.
"We really had a tough time meeting the budget for this year," Jones said. "The trend is to get less state funds. That has been happening over the last two or three years."
Jones said the city was working on annexing new property into the city limits as a method of enhancing revenue, but she added that the annexation process is a long one.
"If the annexation comes before March, we'll see the tax the following year," she pointed out. "There is a lot of activity and interest in annexation. It'll come, but we don't know when."
Jones said she realized asking for a tax increase would not be a popular move.
"Realistically, I don't think voters will look favorably on it," Jones said. "The hospital district will be on the ballot too. I try to be optimistic, but I don't think voters will look favorably on it. It's always hard for people to say OK when you're looking for more money."
Jones added that it had not yet been determined what service or staff might have to be cut if the city's voters reject the proposed tax increase.
"We'll have to wait and see what the budget is, and see where we stand," she said.