Still faces budget crunch with sales tax initiative in limbo
TONASKET – A divided Tonasket City Council approved a two percent hike in the city’s ad valorem tax at the Tuesday, Nov. 13, council meeting.
In its debate on the issue, council members recognized that city residents were resistant to raising taxes — the 0.1 percent sales tax hike proposal was narrowly trailing — but tried to balance that against declining revenues and rising expenses that are creating a budget crunch.
The city has not raised its ad valorem tax in three years.
“We’re probably the only city in the county that has not done this three years in a row,” said Tonasket mayor Patrick Plumb. “I agree with the sentiment that this won’t solve our budgetary woes, but it would go a ways toward funding services that are important to the city, that are basic needs.”
Each one percent of ad valorem tax increase would cost taxpayers $3.00 per $100,000 of property valuation. The two percent hike ($6.00 per $100,000) will bring in an additional $2,316. That will increase the city’s property tax receipts from $115,802 in 2012 to $118,118 next year.
Plumb asked the council to summarize their feelings on the issue.
“You commented that we’re elected by the people that we see every day,” said council member Jean Ramsey. “I have to say that I stand with those that come up to me day after day and say, ‘Don’t raise my taxes.’”
“If we’re going to do this I’d like to see a more gradual (process) rather than doing it all at once,” said council member Jill Vugteveen. “It’s not a big difference, but it is a difference.”
“When we talked budgeting, I was thinking two percent,” said council member Scott Olson. “But when I saw the election returns, I thought, gosh, people are not voting for this, though it’s close. But I also see the numbers and see that it’s a way we get revenue. It’s been nice not doing it. But I realize if we collect the same amount of money, with property revenues going up, we’re collecting a smaller percentage. It’s like a tax decrease. We’re staying revenue neutral, but the percentage is going down.”
The city’s levy rate from $3.10 in 2007 to $2.60 in 2012. With the two percent increase, the 2013 levy rate projects to $2.65, or about where it was ($2.64) in 2010.
“You can’t stand still on a moving train,” Olson said. “Prices are changing; valuations are changing. I don’t want things to cost more. They do. How do we make it so we can continue the same service? We have to adjust the numbers to get the same percentage.”
After Plumb surveyed the opinions of the council members, Olson moved for the two percent tax hike, with council member Selena Hines seconding. Olson, Hines and Vugteveen voted in favor with Ramsey and Dennis Brown opposing.
By contrast, if the sales tax initiative passes, it would add an estimated $20,000 to the budget.
Prior to the ad valorem vote, the council held its final budget hearing.
Vugteveen said that the finance committee was looking at forgoing 3.0 percent raises for city employees, instead considering a 1.7 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA).
“We worked hard in the past five years to catch our city employees up to a reasonable wage,” Vugteveen said. “We at least want to try to maintain that… In trying to consider that, if we can, it’s kind of contradictory to the fact we’re looking at cutting.”
“I’d really like to meet with department heads soon,” Plumb said. “I think I was pretty clear … that if (the tax initiatives) didn’t go through we would have to look at reducing services.”
“The city already operates on a pretty slim budget,” Vugteveen said. “I think every department has been fiscally responsible to the city. To ask them to do even more is not really realistic. I don’t feel the City of Tonasket has ever operated on a frivolous budget. And now to look at it to see what we can cut, over and over again, at some point we need to look the other way (at raising more revenue). I don’t think we’ve asked the citizens of Tonasket for that sales tax increase because we don’t need it.”
- The city council agreed to forward information from Gascho and Gascho regarding damage to the Heritage Building caused by equipment used for the Bonaparte Creek area water/sewer project. Elizabeth Gascho said that the building’s concrete floor had been cracked and that the foundation shifted.
“As a city we acknowledge the receipt of the problem, and then turn it over to the contractor’s insurance,” Plumb said. “Varela has been good about inspecting it, and so has the contractor that’s been overseeing the project.”
Gascho said that the contractor had been “very kind, very cordial,” in dealing with the issue.
- The council agreed to consider a request by Lee Orr for hotel/motel tax funds to be used to promote the Fathers’ Day Fly-In at an event at the Puyallup Fairgrounds. The tax funds are intended for use in promoting tourism.
“What we have to give out is less every year,” Olson said. “We appreciate the Father’s Fly-In very much, and you’re going way out and bringing people over. So if we lower it, it’s only because we have less.”
- The council unanimously approved its interlocal agreement with Oroville to extend its agreement with Christian Johnson for building permit and administrative services for another three years.
- The council adopted city water use efficiency goals as part of updating its overall water system plan.
- The council approved the installation of a PIT-tag (Passive Integrated Transponder) array along Bonaparte Creek as part of the joint Okanogan Basin Monitoring and Evaluation Program co-administered by the Colville Tribes and the Washingont Fish and Wildlife Department. The array tracks the movements of fish that have been injected with transponders.
The Tonasket City Council next meets Tuesday, Nov. 27, in the Council Chambers at the Tonasket City Hall.