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News / Politics

Early step in proposed county charter amendment dies

Madore seeking to prevent 1% tax hike without public vote

By Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter
Published: September 2, 2015, 12:27am

An early step to change the county charter died Tuesday after an impassioned plea by Clark County Councilor Jeanne Stewart that the council wait to discuss the issue until after the two new councilors are seated.

A charter amendment proposed by Councilor David Madore would prevent the county from raising its property tax levy by more than 1 percent in any given year without a popular vote of the people. Absent Councilor Tom Mielke, Councilors Stewart and Madore debated scheduling a hearing to discuss the amendment for early next year.

Stewart said, “I both don’t appreciate and resent” the resolution. She moved that the council wait until January and the new councilors are seated to consider the proposal.

“(It) is ridiculous to be in this position that voting no on this resolution, some people would interpret that to be as a desire to see taxes increase,” Stewart said. “It’s an unfair position to put a fellow council member in.”

The current council is unable to amend the charter. Four of five councilors must first vote to send any amendments to a public vote, and a majority of voters must approve any proposed amendments.

Following the 2001 voter adoption of Initiative 747, pushed by conservative political activist Tim Eyman, counties can raise property tax revenue in individual taxing districts by 1 percent annually. For example, if a county collects $1 million in property taxes one year, it can only levy a 1 percent property tax increase the following year for $1.01 million in property tax revenue, according to the state Department of Revenue.

Counties can, however, “bank” their ability to raise the tax levy beyond 1 percent. If the county projects a good year, for example, the county can choose not to raise taxes. The following year, however, the county can levy a 2 percent tax using both its annual 1 percent tax levy and the prior year’s “banked capacity.”

The Clark County council raised its tax levy by 1 percent every year following the initiative until 2011. From 2011 to 2013, the board voted by resolution not to raise taxes for the following years, instead banking those increases. The county has never used those banked increased, but feasibly could raise its tax levy by 4 percent this year.

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Stewart said it would be “crazy” for a councilor to vote to raise taxes by that much.

Madore, however, did not second Stewart’s motion to wait until January, killing it due to lack of a second.

However, “it’s not dead in my eyes,” he said. This proposal allows the two chair candidates — Marc Boldt, who has no party preference, and Democrat Mike Dalesandro — and the District 2 candidates — Julie Olson, a Republican, and Chuck Green, a Democrat — to weigh in, he said.

“The way you can cast an informed vote is you interrogate and you question and you ask for those candidates ‘Are you for or against that?’ ” he said. “Do you want a 1 percent cap limit on property taxes?”

All four candidates declined to comment on the proposal last month.

Madore, along with fellow councilors Mielke and Stewart, lost his bid for county council chair following the Aug. 4 primary election.

Madore said he will revisit the issue during today’s board time meeting.

Quarry protesters

The Clark County council on Tuesday night also heard concerns from residents who live near local quarries.

Along with familiar faces such as Dave Rogers, who frequently attends council meetings to complain about Yacolt Mountain Quarry, several members of Friends of Livingston Mountain demanded that the county do more to enforce rules at two quarries there.

Mark Martin, a board member of Friends of Livingston Mountain, alleged that the county has done nothing to address homeowners’ concerns.

At a council meeting in June, several Camas residents raised concerns about trucks entering and leaving two quarries on Livingston Mountain, which are operated by Kelso-based J.L. Storedahl & Sons.

The speakers at the time showed video of trucks blowing through a stop sign at the intersection of Northeast 262nd Avenue and Bradford Road, on one occasion nearly hitting another vehicle.

Martin also alleged that there has been blasting at illegal hours, and that there are too many trucks leaving and entering the quarries on a day-to-day basis.

“If you don’t do anything to enforce Storedahl, they’re going to continue to behave like a bad child without consequences,” Martin said.

Martin did, however, praise the county for its recent hire of a code enforcement officer, Ben Joner, who will be responsible for monitoring quarries to ensure they comply with county code. Joner will work in the Department of Environmental Services.

Correction: A previous version of the headline on this story was inaccurate. The headline has been updated to reflect the error. 

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Columbian Education Reporter