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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Camas council to discuss 1% property tax hike and ‘banked’ increase

By Kelly Moyer, Camas-Washougal Post-Record
Published: November 18, 2023, 6:07am

One year after voting 4-3 against taking a 1 percent property tax levy increase to help fund essential city services, Camas officials are again set to consider not only taking the only property tax levy increase allowed under state law, but also the possibility of using the city’s “banked” 1 percent increase it did not collect in 2023.

Camas Finance Director Cathy Huber Nickerson explained to Camas City Council members earlier this month that the 1 percent increase does not signify a 1 percent increase to individual tax rates. Rather, Huber Nickerson said, the increase would impact the overall tax levy amount collected by the city.

In 2024, taking the 1 percent property tax levy increase would add around $146,000 to the city’s general fund, while shifting the tax rate from $1.84 to $1.86 per $1,000 assessed property value.

Four council members — Don Chaney, Tim Hein, Leslie Lewallen and John Nohr — voted against the property tax levy increase for 2023, but the majority of the council also voted to “bank” the increase, meaning they could save the increase for another time and possibly, as the council did when it banked the increase in 2009, dedicate the money to a specific need, such as street preservation or fire department needs.

Although the city’s expenditures — including salaries and benefits for city employees — have increased by more than 1 percent, the state limits cities and other jurisdictions from increasing property tax levies by more than 1 percent annually. Not taking the annual increase, according to Huber Nickerson, compounds over time and would equal $1.3 million in lost revenues over the next 10 years.

“Doing nothing puts you in a bigger hole,” Huber Nickerson told council. “The majority of the bills the city pays, including firefighters’ and police officers’ (salaries) are going up about 3.01 percent. And medical benefits are up 6 to 9 percent, so if you’re trying to just tread water, it’s hard to do even with (the 1 percent increase).”

At least one council member who voted against taking the 1 percent property tax levy increase in 2023, said they’d changed their mind.

“I voted for that last year, and I’ve had the opportunity to study it,” Nohr said. “If you look at Clark County, (which) didn’t take it for years, they’re in a significant structural deficit.”

Nohr said he hoped to “rectify (his) mistake” and vote to not only take the 1 percent property tax levy increase in 2024, but also to use the 2023 banked capacity, to “dedicate it to something appropriate so it doesn’t depreciate over time.”

Don Chaney and Carter agreed with Nohr that the City should use the banked capacity from 2023, to help pay for a specific city need. Hein agreed that he “could go with Option 3, as well,” which was the option for taking the 1 percent increase and using the banked capacity.

Councilwoman Jennifer Senescu did not weigh in on the issue. And Lewallen, who voted against the property tax increase for 2023, said she could support using the banked capacity “with designation that it is specifically for street preservation.”

Huber Nickerson said she would bring the issue back to council during its meeting on Monday.