Following months of back-and-forth conversations about the city’s most pressing priorities and ways to fund them — including the passage of a new 2 percent utility tax on Camas’ water, sewer, garbage and wastewater utilities — the Camas City Council unanimously approved Mayor Steve Hogan’s proposed $250,397,285 biennial budget for 2023-24.
The 2023-24 budget, said Camas Finance Director Cathy Huber Nickerson, “provides benefits for the whole city, from residents to businesses, early childhood learning to accessibility needs, physical safety to cybersecurity, planning for the city’s growth to rehabilitating current assets.”
Huber Nickerson said the final 2023-24 budget includes 319 total full-time positions, including 35 new positions added to bolster staffing levels; 11 capital parks projects totaling $9.35 million, including the first two phases of Crown Park improvements; five capital roadway projects totaling $9.3 million, including the third phase of the Northwest 38th Avenue improvements; and $24.5 million in major building maintenance, including two replacement fire stations, to address critical failing infrastructure.
After city council members Don Chaney, Tim Hein, Leslie Lewallen and John Nohr in November shot down the annual 1 percent increase to the city’s property tax levy that finances Camas’ general fund services, city officials opted to “bank” the 1 percent increase — which would have cost the average Camas homeowner an additional $1.25 a month — for possible use at a later date.
Not taking the 1 percent property tax levy increase, will result in general fund revenue losses of $143,097 in 2023, and $151,503 in 2024.
To offset those revenue reductions, city officials said they will hold off for six months on hiring for several staffing positions — including two police sergeants, a records specialist, a volunteer coordinator, two engineering managers, a system administrator for the city’s internet technology department, a part-time library associate, a recreation specialist and project manager for the city’s parks and recreation department and two street maintenance workers.
Some council members, including Chaney and Hein, said they were concerned the budget includes funding for eight of 12 planned firefighter hires — a decision that will allow the Camas-Washougal Fire Department to increase its fire engine staffing from two to three firefighters — despite the inability of Camas’ partner, the city of Washougal, to pay its roughly 40 percent share of the fire department’s staffing costs.
“I appreciate their funding priorities,” Hein said of Washougal city officials, “but we have an interlocal agreement, and if we’re paying for all of these, I have an issue with that.”