WOODLAND — Woodland City Council members on Wednesday delayed final adoption of a 6.5 percent utility tax, a move that will scotch the planned hiring of a part-time employee for the city’s understaffed fire department.
The tax was up for a second, and final, council vote, but members tabled the measure until May after listening to public objections for a half hour.
City officials estimated the tax would raised $204,000 annually and add about $4.83 a month to the average resident’s utility bill.
“The utility tax doesn’t sound like much, until you add it on top of everything else,” resident Dan Moir said. “Some of these people are hanging on by their fingernails. And if you do this, you’ll be stepping on their fingers.”
Nelson Holmberg, executive director at the Port of Woodland, told council members that the new tax could stifle business growth.
“The more expensive we make it to do business in Woodland, the harder it is to bring new businesses to town and keep existing ones,” Holmberg said.
Residents asked council members to pore through the city’s $14.2 million budget to find an alternative to the tax. Councilman Benjamin Fredricks, however, voiced his support for the tax and said the council already has scoured the budget for unnecessary spending.
“I encourage anyone to go through our 130-page budget and find the cuts. It’s difficult,” he said. “We’re not talking about turtle bridges under roads or deer paths. We’re talking about government’s essential role, which is providing public safety.”
Councilman Scott Perry said he was frustrated that opponents waited until the final reading of the measure to voice concerns, even though the tax has been debated for at least two months. Perry, who moved to table the measure until May, asked tax opponents to come up with viable solutions by May.
Council members Marshall Allen, John Burke, Susan Humbyrd and Perry agreed to put off a final decision until May. Marilee McCall, Al Swindell and Fredricks opposed the delay.
If approved in May, the tax would start generating revenue by November. It would help to shore up the fire department’s finances. The agency now is understaffed, sometimes is able to send out only a single responder and is taking longer to respond to calls because of growing demand for service, sand Fire Chief Michael Jackson.
Jackson said delaying the utility tax will postpone the hiring of a part-time firefighter for at least a year.
A new utility tax would come on top of a 0.1 percentage point increase in the sales tax Woodland voters approved in November to build a new police station on Scott Avenue. That tax adds a penny to a $10 purchase.
In addition, in February, the Woodland School District is asking voters to approve a replacement maintenance and operations levy, and in April it will ask them to approve a $40 million bond sale for a new high school.