The White Salmon City Council has scheduled a public hearing for Nov. 29 to consider whether to raise property taxes for city residents.
Eric Greene, White Salmon's clerk-treasurer, explained that the city has two tax questions to address. First, the council must decide whether to increase the property tax, and if so, to raise it by one percent or to increase it by two percent.
State law stipulates that property tax increases must be held to no more than one percent of the assessed valuation of property -- unless there is a vote of the people to OK a larger increase. However, because White Salmon did not raise local property taxes for 2006, the city would be within its rights to boost the tax by two percent starting in 2007.
"The maximum we can raise the rate by law is one percent, but we can bank the previous years if we did not pass it in previous years," explained council member Timi Keene.
Any property tax increase would take effect in January 2007.
Several citizens at the council meeting questioned the need for a tax boost.
Robin Hale, the owner of Bridge RV Park in White Salmon, asked whether the council members had already decided to OK the property tax increase.
Hale pointed out that the agenda item made it look as if the increase had already been agreed to.
Under "Action Items" on the council's Nov. 15 agenda, the property tax issue was listed as: "Approval of Ordinance 2006-11-790, determining the amount to be raised by Ad Valorem taxes to be levied for the year 2007."
"Is this tax already a done deal, or can we consider this?" Hale asked. "I'd like to see you slow this process down and find out what the taxes are going to. What will you spend the money on? Why do we need the money? Can you justify it?"
Public Works Director Wil Keyser said the additional tax revenue would go to the city's general fund.
"Do we need this money?" Hale asked.
"Absolutely," responded Mayor Francis Gaddis.
Hale requested that the city research how the money would be used rather than simply bringing in more revenue just because it has the legal right to do so.
"Before you go and collect a lot of different money in taxes, find out if there are good causes and benefits it's going to. If so, I might be for it," Hale said. "But if you can't identify the benefits and are going off haphazardly, I'm totally against it."
Greene pointed out that a one percent property tax increase would raise only an extra $2,381 for the city.
"It's not worth a lot of council time," Greene said. "It's $2,400. If it were real money with more zeros on the end, I'd get excited about it."
Regardless of the amount, Hale said the city needed to offer reasons for the increase.
"I want it justified," Hale said. "I'm pretty tax sensitive, and I'm getting hit pretty hard."
White Salmon Fire Chief Bill Hunsaker said he could see good uses for the revenue.
"I'm against raising taxes as much as anybody, but the cost of living keeps going up two percent or three percent a year," Hunsaker said. "If the city doesn't take this opportunity, that's why we're behind the 8-ball. It looks good not to raise property taxes, but it really hampers the city. It's only $2,400, but $2,400 will buy me two sets of turnouts."
Council member Brad Roberts agreed with Hunsaker.
"I don't like to raise taxes, but we need everything we can possibly put in, and that leads me to back this," Roberts said. "I'll do what's unpopular. I'm not looking for re-election. This is not much of a band-aid."
The council resolved the question with two separate votes. First, the council decided to continue the hearing on the property tax question until Nov. 29.
In a separate vote, the council members then reached consensus on the amount of increase they will vote up or down on that date. They agreed it would be a one percent increase to the property tax rate.
If the council approves an increase on Nov. 29, the new rate would go into effect as of Jan. 1, 2007.