The Woodland City Council narrowly approved a 6.5 percent utility tax to raise money to bolster the city’s fire department, but it won’t be using the money to hire a city administrator.
In Monday’s 4-3 vote, council members Marshal Allen, John Burke and Susan Humbyrd opposed the tax, saying they did not want to impose a new burden on people already struggling to make ends meet.
“This is going to come out of a lot of people’s pockets that can’t afford it,” Allen said. “I can’t in all humanity accept this and vote for this.”
Council members Scott Perry, Benjamin Fredricks, Al Swindell and Marilee McCall voted for the tax, which is expected to raise enough to hire a part-time position to ensure two responders are available in the fire department at all times.
“It’s not a popular stance, but I’ve looked at several other options and I’ve looked at the budget. I don’t see any other options,” McCall said Monday night. “I don’t want to live here if (the fire department) is not funded to where it’s requested.”
Before the tax takes effect, the council must approve it a second time. A vote is expected at its next meeting in January.
Fire Chief Michael Jackson told the council earlier this month that calls have increased 10 percent in the last year and 20 percent during the last couple years, but funding has not increased. As a result, response times have risen, and in some cases only a single firefighter responds to emergency medical calls.
Tax supporters also argued the city can no longer rely on the volunteer department
“It was a good system for many years,” Swindell said. “But we’ve outgrown that. We’re not doing our job if we don’t fund this. It’s critically important for our city.”
Councilman Fredricks scuttled his request that some of the expected $200,000 in revenue from the utility tax be used to hire a paid city administrator. A consultant has recommended that the city hire one to improve operations, but the council has long balked at the idea. Fredricks still supports the concept, but he backed off Monday due to lack of council support.
If it gets final approval, the new tax would come on top of a 0.1 percent sales tax voters approved in November to build a 10,000-square-foot police station on Scott Avenue. The tax equates to a penny on a $10 purchase. Water rates also are going up 7 percent.
The city council Monday also passed the city’s $14.2 million 2012 budget after reinstalling a code enforcement position that was slated to be cut. However, some council members admitted that the budget was a work in progress and would be revised in January.