Clark County cities set budgets with property tax hikes

1 percent increase in 2014 the norm

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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Vancouver and Battle Ground residents aren’t the only ones who can expect a 1 percent increase to their cities’ property tax levies.

Vancouver approved the increase at its Dec. 2 city council meeting. Camas, Washougal, La Center and Ridgefield also will see tax increases in 2014.

For some outlying cities, the increase will be used to backfill flagging general funds. Others will use it to boost growing coffers. And most plan to emphasize capital construction projects.

With property valuations increasing, the 1 percent bump — the most allowed in a given year — is anticipated to give cities a little extra wiggle room.

“It does provide us with consistent funding over the years,” said Ridgefield Mayor Ron Onslow.

The 1 percent increase reflects the amount cities can collect, so the change won’t necessarily result in tax increases for all residents. Because assessed values fluctuate, the tax liability for a property owner may be more than the 1 percent, or less, said Clark County Assessor Peter Van Nortwick.

Looking ahead

In Ridgefield, Onslow said he was confident of the city’s financial footing in 2014, following a 2013 building boom that resulted in houses going up at a feverish pace.

In 2013, Ridgefield was the third-fastest-growing city in Washington, with the number of residents jumping by 4.7 percent. That level of growth isn’t sustainable, city officials say, even though the city expects to grow in the years to come. The population is expected to edge up by another 4.5 percent over the next three years.

Ridgefield also expects to add more than 50,000 square feet of commercial real estate space and 120 residential homes this year, Onslow said. The new buildings will boost revenue but also require spending more on city-owned infrastructure.

For Ridgefield, projects ahead include reconstructing South 85th Avenue and replacing LED lights throughout the city.

Ridgefield isn’t alone. A number of projects are planned throughout Camas, as well.

“We’re going to have a very busy year with the capital projects,” said Cathy Huber Nickerson, Camas’ finance director. “Things are accelerating a bit with the new housing growth.”

Camas expects to spend roughly $25 million on capital construction, including two water treatment facility projects and two road extensions. The city plans to start work on a $6.3 million water treatment facility and pipeline, along with a $4 million sewer bypass line that will extend from the north shore of Lacamas Lake to the treatment plant.

On top of that, the city will complete the extension of Northwest 38th Avenue and Northwest Friberg Street.

Washougal plans to maintain current service levels, according to its budget statement. The city has a number of projects set for completion this year.

“There’s some optimism,” said Jennifer Forsberg, Washougal’s finance director. “The economy has turned around, sales tax has also turned around.”

Forsberg said she expects to see a 3 percent increase in sales tax collection in 2014.

Projects are on the horizon in the city. They include final design and pre-construction for the Safe Routes to School project between Sunset Ridge and Jemtegaard Middle School.

La Center is the outlier when it comes to capital project spending. For 2014, the city budgeted $150,000 on projects, down from nearly $1 million in 2013.

The city will also raise its water rates by $5 a month in each of the next five years. The increases are necessary to take some of the burden off the city’s reserves, which had been used to pay off debts owed by the sewer fund.

Battle Ground approved a two-year budget in 2013 that includes 1 percent property tax hikes each year.