Faced with a serious and growing budget deficit, the White Salmon City Council moved last week to try to correct the problem with a bit of additional revenue.
With a 4-0 vote after a public hearing on the issue, council members approved a measure to levy an increased "ad valorem" property tax for calender year 2008.
City officials said the move will bring an additional $33,000 in revenue to White Salmon.
With the city facing a current deficit of $102,000, the additional benefit approved on Nov. 26 will only help, not solve, White Salmon's budget troubles.
"Every little bit is going to help when you're in deficit," said Mayor David Poucher. "It's not the end-all. I've talked to city employees and asked for them to help. Right now we have a $102,000 deficit, and that is as of the end of October. We still have all of November and December to go through. But we will also be getting property tax revenues and other revenue before the end of the year too."
Poucher explained that the tax boost includes the one percent the city is allowed to take each year, as well as the "banked levy" amount. The banked capacity is the amount the city could have levied in recent years, but opted not to do so.
With the emergency situation, however, council members felt it was important to access the reserve source of revenue.
"We're taking the banked and everything we have available," Poucher said. "This is what we're allowed to take."
Jan Brending, who is helping to oversee the city's budgeting and bookkeeping until a new clerk-treasurer is hired, explained to the council that the ad valorem tax increase was necessary and urged its passage.
"It's 17 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, spread over about $177 million," Brending explained. "This will assist in balancing the budget. This money is needed. But the reality is, even with this, the City Council will still be looking at making cuts in the current expense fund. There is not enough projected revenue, so we're facing belt tightening measures and there are going to have to be budget cuts."
Brending added that the city's financial picture was not positive, and recommended that the city be much more careful in the future.
"The city needs to look at its revenue and live within its means instead of borrowing money," Brending said.
Before the vote, several citizens spoke to the council, and none opposed the increased tax.
Jaci Dietsch, a White Salmon citizen who serves on the city's budget committee, recommended that the council support the tax package.
"I'm in favor of the ad valorem tax increase," Dietsch explained. "I very much encourage this tax. As we are all aware, we have bare coffers right now. This tax won't make all the difference, but it will make a difference. In order to operate the city in the black, we need to take all the revenue we can find, and I urge approval."
Another local citizen, Donna Marx, said she also supported the tax increase.
"I was ready to blast the City Council, but after hearing the explanation about the situation, have had a change of heart," Marx said. "I can handle 17 cents, and I urge you to approve it."
Shirley Cox, who chairs the budget committee, told the council that the city's budget problems were getting worse over time.
"I'm asking the council to please adopt the ad valorem tax at the highest amount possible," Cox said.
Council member Brad Roberts made the motion to approve the measure to increase the ad valorem tax.
"I've thought about it and listened to people," Roberts said. "Due to the city's circumstances, we need to take what's recommended, and I support the increase."
The new tax levy rate goes into effect as of Jan. 1, 2008.
After the council's approval, Poucher said he was gratified at the vote and the public's understanding.
"I think it's excellent," Poucher said. "I was glad to see the public support and hear the comments from citizens."