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Dec. 11, 2019

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Woodland tax measure passes by one vote as Nov. 5 election certified

Money to pay for three new police officer positions, equipment

By , Columbian Staff Writer
Published: November 27, 2019, 6:00am

It’s a cliche to say every vote counts, but it was hard not to believe Woodland Mayor Will Finn when he trotted out the phrase Tuesday afternoon.

When results from the November election were officially certified Tuesday, a Woodland tax measure passed by one vote. The levy lid lift had trailed in every previous ballot count leading up to certification. But when Cowlitz County released the certified totals, it was ahead 691-690.

The money from the measure will fund two new officers and an administrative sergeant for the Woodland Police Department, plus equipment upgrades.

“It’s obviously a positive outcome for our police department, which is very exciting,” Finn said. “For folks who don’t vote or don’t think their votes matter, this is a time when it did.”

City officials said the 2020 property tax rate would increase an estimated 62.7 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, bringing the city’s total levy rate to $2.47 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The city is no stranger to closer votes. A similar ballot measure failed by 18 votes in 2017. And in 2011, Scott Perry won a city council seat over Robert Ripp in a coin toss when the two remained tied after a recount.

This year, the levy lid lift trailed by two votes heading into Tuesday’s certification count, down from five votes the week prior. City officials remained hopeful as the certification vote neared. Carolyn Fundingsland, Cowlitz County auditor, said the city had 12 ballots that were challenged, either due to a lack of signature or a signature that didn’t match records with the elections office.

State law says elections officials must mail those voters a “cure form” so they can fix their ballot if they want to be counted. They also must call those voters. Those ballots aren’t opened, so elections officials don’t know how those people voted. They also sent a list of voters with challenged ballots to the city. Finn said members of the Woodland Police Officers Association then went to those voters’ homes and asked them to submit their cure forms.

“This case was very rare, because the ballots that were resolved and tabulated were challenged ballots that the district then went out and made sure were cured,” Fundingsland said. “The district worked on this one. Had they not done the work, this might not have passed in the end.”

Fundingsland said the November general election bucked trends elections officials are used to seeing, even down to the turnout. The election had a turnout of 44.6 percent in Cowlitz County; off-year general elections usually have around 35 percent in the county, she said. Clark County recorded around 36 percent voter turnout. Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey said it’s a better turnout than the past few off-year elections for Clark County.

The timing of the ballot returns was also later than usual, Fundingsland said.

“This election was pretty atypical,” she said. “It was not one of those elections that fits the mold.”

Regardless of how votes come in at the county level, Finn felt it was the latest in a string on similar votes in Woodland.

“We’re over by one vote. We’re in a positive direction in one vote,” he said. “Our community is still divided on the direction and the vision of our city. The margin is so small. Moving forward, we’re going to have to get out in the community and have some more conversation to either get more buy-in or see what people want.”

Finn said the city plans to seek public input in the coming months on a few big topics, including what should be done to fix Exit 21 on Interstate 5.

“We need folks to come out and participate in the process,” he said. “This is their community. As the elected officials and drivers of their community, we need their input. Otherwise, we’re flying blind here. If we don’t get that, we’re going to end up in the same situation where half the city agrees with what we’re doing and half are saying it’s ridiculous.”

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