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Council Shoots Down Hike In City's Property Taxes

Vote was 3-2

With a 3-2 vote, members of the White Salmon City Council decided not to boost local property taxes for 2006.

At the Nov. 16 council meeting, the proposed tax increase failed by one vote as council members Susan Benedict, Richard Marx, and Penny Morris voted against the increase, while Susan Gookin and Francis Gaddis voted in support.

The council had discussed a property tax increase of one percent during the council's Nov. 2 meeting.

Mayor Roger Holen said that while the money involved was minimal, he was concerned about the overall impact of declining revenue for the city of White Salmon.

"It's minor in terms of the amount of money it would have raised, which was about $2,500. But it indicates that the City Council feels the people of White Salmon are not willing to pay for services," Holen said.

Holen pointed out that the city's revenue stream is declining due to the effects of inflation.

"In real dollars, our revenue is going down," he explained. "We're falling behind and don't have as much money to run the city as we did four years ago."

Richard Marx, one of the council members who voted down the tax hike said he could not justify asking the city's property owners to pay more.

"My bottom line is, I don't feel comfortable raising rates on citizens when the administration cannot live within the budget. When I see they're responsible enough to spend within the budget, then they have the right to ask for more money," Marx explained. "It's not a lack of revenue, it's a lack of responsible management."

Holen questioned why members of the City Council bemoaned the city's budget crunch in 2005, but then turned around and rejected a measure that would bring more revenue to White Salmon.

"Last year, members of the City Council complained because the city pool was not going to be open. But does anybody want to pay for it? No, they go to charity," Holen said. "Well, maybe we can start repairing streets with charity too. People are being unrealistic about no new taxes. The money from Washington, D.C., to the states is drying up, and therefore the money from the states to the cities is drying up."

Holen said the only viable method available for the city to increase its revenue is to annex more land.

"You do achieve a better economy of scale with annexation," he said.

Robin Hale, who owns the Bridge RV Park in the riverfront district of White Salmon, spoke in opposition to the added tax at the Nov. 2 meeting. He said he was surprised the council did not go ahead and make the increase.

"I thought for sure it was going to be approved," Hale said. "I at least wanted them to think about it."

Hale suggested that rather than consider a one percent property tax increase each year, the council and the mayor could put a proposal before the city's voters and ask for support.

"If the city is really going to have a serious shortfall, take it before the voters and, if they can justify it -- if it's for something that will do all of us some benefit and bring the community around a bit -- I'd like to see them ask us to approve something that will really do some good, instead of this one percent."

Council member Francis Gaddis, who made the motion to approve the 2006 property tax boost, said he was surprised the measure failed.

"It wasn't a great deal of money, but we needed it. Nobody likes taxes, including myself, but they are necessary to keep everything above board," Gaddis said.

Gaddis added that he was not sure how the city would be able to maintain services with declining revenues.

"We'll just have to trim things a little leaner," Gaddis explained. "We'll just have to do with what we've got."

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