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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Clark County to keep pursuing tax cut

Financial officials, Stewart oppose Madore plan for 2 percent reduction

The Columbian
Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter
Published: September 30, 2015, 7:36pm

Despite warnings from Clark County’s budget staff and financial officials, the county council on Wednesday pushed ahead with plans to reduce the county’s property tax levy.

Republican Councilors David Madore and Tom Mielke voted to direct staff to prepare a supplemental budget that includes a 2 percent general fund property tax reduction. Fellow Republican Councilor Jeanne Stewart, however, decried the proposal, saying it could lock the county into an already developing “systemic deficit.”

Madore proposed last week that the county reduce its property tax levy. That cut would reduce Clark County’s projected $28 million coffer at the end of 2016 by $1.2 million. County policy is to keep $23 million in reserves.

Though Madore said the reduction will ease the stress on homeowners in the wake of Clark County’s affordable housing crisis, budget staff say the cuts will make little, if any, impact on individual families’ tax bills. Treasurer Doug Lasher, a Democrat, last week estimated a homeowner whose house is valued at $280,000 would save about $7.33 on their annual bill — or two lattes, he said.

The impact on the county, however, could be enormous, budget and financial officials have said, and may lead to layoffs of critical employees and delay of critically needed purchases, such as a new computer system projected to cost as much as $10 million.

And the average person may not see their bill decrease at all. The county charges homeowners about $1.40 per $1,000 of the taxable value of their property. Taking into account the levies of school districts, fire districts, libraries and other jurisdictions, a homeowner’s overall bill can represent more than $14 per $1,000 of the taxable value of their property.

Assuming all other jurisdictions approve a 1 percent increase in their tax levy, the average homeowner will likely see their overall property tax bill increase, said County Assessor Peter Van Nortwick, a Republican.

Madore and Mielke, however, refused to budge.

“I have not seen a compelling argument that says we cannot do this,” Mielke said.

Madore, meanwhile, denied that the reduction in property taxes will lead to additional cuts.

“We are not cutting the budget,” Madore said. “We are reducing the amount of growth.”

Stewart, however, criticized the idea, saying, as a conservative, she cannot justify putting the budget in jeopardy and limiting the county’s options for future necessary purchases.

“In a political sense, it sounds grand,” she said.

“It feels like it’s a reaction,” she added. “I don’t think it’s a sound decision.”

The county will consider its updated budget, which will include the 2 percent property tax decrease, at a Dec. 1 hearing.