Woodland residents voted down a levy lid lift to fund police personnel and equipment by 18 votes in 2017, and a similar levy request is heading for an even closer finish this year.
Since Woodland straddles Clark and Cowlitz counties, votes from both counties are tabulated for the measure. In the latest combined counts from each jurisdiction, the levy is failing by five votes, 687-682. The measure is dead even among the voters in Clark County, with 16 votes for and against.
Neither county listed estimated ballots left to count on the most recent updates. Clark County Elections will send out the next ballot count at 3 p.m. Friday, while Cowlitz County’s next update is scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday. Carolyn Fundingsland, Cowlitz County auditor, said there are no valid ballots collected that still need to be counted.
“What we do have is challenged ballots,” she said. “Either they were challenged because somebody’s signature didn’t match or it was unsigned. We have 12 of those within the city of Woodland.”
She said city officials can request the list of names associated with those 12 ballots — three are people who didn’t sign their ballot and nine whose signatures didn’t match — and reach out to them to go in and cure their ballot.
“It’s so close, that could make up the difference,” Fundingsland said. “We don’t know how those people voted yet, so we can’t say for sure, though.”
Clark County Elections Supervisor Cathie Garber wrote in an email that there are zero Woodland ballots left to the count or that have an issue that needs resolving. It’s possible another ballot or two could trickle in from the post office.
She also wrote that “there is no provision in law for a local measure to have a mandatory recount.” Fundingsland said a recount can be requested within two business days of certification of election results, which is scheduled for Nov. 26. The recount can’t be requested by the city government, but instead must be made by a group of at least five registered voters.
A recount must also be paid for, Fundingsland said. A manual recount — where every individual vote is counted by hand — costs 25 cents per ballot, Fundingsland said, while a machine recount costs 15 cents per ballot.
Fundingsland said city officials have indicated they do plan to pay for a manual recount if the levy is still failing at the time of certification. That would cost about $350.
If the recount reverses the result, then the county has to pay for it. While the city can’t request a recount, Fundingsland said Cowlitz County would accept a check from the city to pay for it.
The levy would allow city councilors to increase Woodland’s property tax levy in an amount exceeding the 1 percent levy lid. Should it pass, the money would be used to hire three officers and purchase police equipment. City officials said the 2020 property tax rate would increase an estimated $0.6270 per $1,000 of assessed property value for a total levy rate of $2.4700 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Woodland has struggled to find funding for the police department in recent years when looking to grow the size of the department to match an influx of new residents. In the preliminary 2020 budget council is working through at the moment, the police department budget will consume 30 percent of the general fund. The fire service contract with Clark County Fire and Rescue will take another 20 percent, meaning the combined police and fire dollars make up half of general fund expenditure appropriations.
According to that preliminary budget, the city’s police department has 12 full-time equivalent positions: one chief, two sergeants, seven officers and two administrative clerks.
The department’s budget for 2020 is also expected to increase from this year. The department’s 2018 budget ended up being $1,705,365. The city budgeted $1,719,862 for the department for 2019, and the preliminary budget for 2020 has the department’s budget at $1,908,165.