Vancouver raises property tax levy by 1 percent

City council approves increase; Turlay sole dissenter

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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The Vancouver City Council voted 6-1 on Monday to approve a 1 percent increase in the property tax levy, the maximum annual increase allowed.

The increase will generate $419,438 in new revenue that councilors pledged to put toward public safety.

According to an example provided to the council, the owner of a property assessed at $200,000 would have paid $634 to the city's general fund in 2013. In 2014, assuming the property value increased by 8.5 percent, the residence would be valued at $217,000 and the homeowner would owe $640 in city taxes, an increase of $6 for the year.

If the value declined or remained the same, the increase in annual taxes would be less.

Mayor Tim Leavitt and Councilors Jack Burkman, Bart Hansen, Jeanne Harris, Jeanne Stewart and Larry Smith supported the increase, while Councilor Bill Turlay cast the dissenting vote without comment.

Last week, Turlay was critical of the process and said he wished councilors would have received the levy information earlier to allow for a thorough discussion.

Because voters approved Initiative 747 in 2001, capping annual levy rate increases at 1 percent, the city has opted for the increase every year except 2010.

The slowed growth in revenues "has impacted the city's ability to provide services to the community commensurate with population growth and inflationary increases, resulting in the city's structural deficit," Lloyd Tyler, the city's chief financial officer, and city Treasurer Carrie Lewellen, wrote in a memo to the city council and City Manager Eric Holmes.

Voicing opinions

The city's general fund is $351 million for the 2013-14 biennial budget.

Had the council opted not to increase the levy, the pre-vote memo said, the 2013-14 budget "will remain in balance with the use of short-term, one-time resources from outside agencies that will expire" in the next few years. "However, the city's ability to fund a stable and balanced set of core services that reflects the community's priorities will be diminished."

Three people, including failed city council candidate Micheline Doan, spoke against the increase. Among other things, they said the levy increase was unfair to people on fixed incomes.

Stewart, who, along with Harris will step down from the council at the end of the month, said she'll support the increase because the money will go for fire and police positions currently paid for by grants that are set to expire next year.

"We need a safe community," Stewart said.

Councilor Hansen said the city needs to find money

to keep 13 firefighters. That's the equivalent of a fire station, he said.

Leavitt, who last month defeated Turlay to win a second term, had the final word.

"People want good services from the city. You have to pay for good services," Leavitt said.

Since 2008, the city has cut staff positions by approximately 20 percent. The 2013-14 biennial budget was down 12 percent from the 2009-10 total budget of $857.3 million.