Tax hike discussed at Tonasket City Council

TONASKET – Faced with rising costs and revenues that are flat at best, the Tonasket City Council is considering whether to raise the ad valorem property tax for the first time in three years.

The issue was discussed during the Budget Workshop Hearing at the Tuesday, Oct. 23, city council meeting. No decision was made as the full council was not present; council members Jean Ramsey, Scott Olson and Dennis Brown, although sufficient to form a quorum, decided not to move on the issue until council members Jill Vugteveen and Selena Hines could be present.

“Expenses are going up,” said Tonasket Mayor Patrick Plumb. “At some point we need to make the revenue match the expenditures. For three years the council has said ‘No’ to raising the property tax ad valorem and I appreciate the thought behind that, but it limits you from being able to expend funds.”

Council member Scott Olson noted that while the tax hasn’t been adjusted in three years, the value of the community overall has gone up and thus property owners are actually paying a lower percentage of taxes than they were at that time.

“The collected amount has stayed the same,” Olson said. “But the value of the community has gone up.

“If we were able to do a two percent (increase) it would help with our total budget and make it equitable. We wouldn’t be increasing the percent taken (over the long haul) but we would be increasing our revenue. So if someone is in a home that is losing value, it’s fair to them. If it’s worth more, that’s what property tax is. You pay more when you have more. I think that would be rational, though I’m not making a motion at this time.”

Plumb said that finding areas to cut money from the budget would result in a reduction in services that city residents have come to expect, particularly with sales tax revenue down in the still-sputtering economy.

“This isn’t a final fix to our budget constraints,” he said. “We have a fixed amount of expenditures that we have to meet… It’s limiting our ability to offer services that by all rights we feel we need (such as) cops and fire protection. We need to take a hard look at what we’re doing and know what these impacts are.”

 Yard sales discussed

Issues with persistent yard sales have the council considering whether to write an ordinance that could require a permit and/or limit the number of days yard sales could be in operation within the city.

“I’d really like us to come to an agreement on the number of yard sales allowed in a year,” said council member Jean Ramsey in broaching the subject. “Some of them are running full time, and we’re not getting a lick of revenue in taxes.”

Ramsey proposed a limit of three two-day yard sales, and/or a maximum of six in a calendar year.

“What would happen,” asked Plumb, “if someone said, ‘Oops, we did seven?’ You could have penalties, or permits. Really, you’re not going to get sales tax… though if you have a business license and you put on a yard sale, you’re in direct conflict with that license and in violation of state law.”

Olson suggested that there was likely “boilerplate” language available for similar ordinances from other places that have enacted them.

“If you think about it, there’s been every loophole in the world they’ve had to cover with those things,” he said.

Plumb added that a permit would make sense in light of the expectations that people have in receiving city services.

“It does create added traffic in residential areas,” he said. “I’ve been asked many times to have the cops monitor their yard sales. There is an expectation that the cops will watch over their stuff because they don’t want to put their stuff away every night. So there is an added expectation of service.”

The possibility was discussed of issuing a permit for the desired number of days and setting a fine for those that operated without a permit or exceeded their allotment of days.

“It would be good to have an ordinance,” Plumb said. “But I think we should have a public session on it.”

“We do that,” Olson said, questioning the need for a special meeting. “They’re called council meetings.

“I’d like to see us implement a fee permit and limit the number,” he added. “Then we need to make sure we have the right language so that it’s enforceable.”

The issue will be discussed at one or more future city council meetings.

Also, the council approved Julie Alley’s request on behalf of the Tonasket Chamber of Commerce to reserve Founders Day Park for Winterfest on Nov. 30. They also approved the second reading of a budget amendment that changed the salary schedule to allow a raise for the assistant city superintendent, who has taken on city superintendent duties on top of his existing job, and for a temporary police clerk.

The council next meets on Tuesday, Nov. 13.