Washougal ponders levy for fire services

A decision could be made at July 22 city council meeting

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

Published:

 

WASHOUGAL — Washougal is one step closer to deciding whether to seek voter approval of a 10-cent replacement levy lid lift dedicated to fire and emergency medical services.

The city council directed staff Monday to write a resolution that would -- if approved by a majority of voters -- replace the city's previous levy lid lift, which expired at the end of 2012. Voters had approved the six-year levy lid lift during a low-turnout 2006 primary election, with more than 55 percent in favor.

The city council's decision could come as early as its next meeting, on July 22. The city has until Aug. 6 to place it on the November ballot.

The proposal comes as the city anticipates future deficits, which could deplete the city's minimum reserves by 2017. Washougal is also in the process of consolidating fire and EMS services with Camas, which will increase the city's contribution to those programs.

But before the proposal is passed on to voters -- if it is --it will have to pass muster with council members. Some say they're opposed to raising taxes.

"I'm a little reluctant to go forward with this because it's our first opportunity to raise taxes," Councilman Brent Boger said. "But I can be convinced."

Councilman David Shoemaker said despite being a "fellow conservative," he supported placing a measure on the November ballot and letting voters decide on it.

A lid lift of 10 cents per $1,000 of valuation would generate about $129,000, which would go toward fire and EMS services. The cost to an owner of a house valued at $250,000 would be $25 a year.

Other options the city could pursue to prevent what city staff believe would mean going into the red are slowing the rate at which the city spends money and reducing services. The city could also try to revamp its employee benefits during labor negotiations, said Finance Director Jennifer Forsberg, but the savings from that are unknown.

City Administrator David Scott said the city could balance its budget in 2014 without a levy lid lift, but it would become increasingly difficult to do so in the future.

"It becomes a more pressing question (in 2015)," Scott said.