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News / Clark County News

City of Camas faces unexpected revenue shortfall

Mayor proposes new budget that delays 20 new hires

By Kelly Moyer , Camas-Washougal Post-Record
Published: October 9, 2023, 7:24pm

The city of Camas is facing an unexpected revenue shortfall that could prevent the hiring of more than 20 positions in 2024, including eight firefighters, two police officers, two police sergeants, a parks project manager and three street maintenance positions.

“What we’re seeing in the economy is that housing is not what it was a couple years ago,” Camas Finance Director Cathy Huber Nickerson told Camas City Council members Oct. 2 during a council workshop.

As the housing market and new home construction slowed, Huber Nickerson said, so have the city’s general fund revenues.

“The number we’ll have for next year’s property taxes, which capture August 2022 to August 2023, is much lower than it has been in many years,” Huber Nickerson said.

The city relies heavily on property taxes to fund its general fund, which pays for fire, emergency medical, police, parks, streets, library and other critical services. Huber Nickerson said this means that, when the housing market cools, the city’s general fund also suffers.

“The budget is tighter than we would have seen when we were starting to formulate (the 2023-24 biennial) budget,” Huber Nickerson said.

To account for the revenue shortfall — $1.43 million less in taxes thanks to lower rates of new construction and lower sales taxes and $340,670 less in charges for services due to slower residential permitting and planning — Camas Mayor Steve Hogan has proposed a new 2024 budget for the council’s consideration.

The new budget would hold off on hiring more than 20 staff positions included in the 2023-24 budget the council adopted in December 2022.

“These are not just light cuts,” Hogan said Monday. “These were pretty important adds we agreed on when we put together the budget.”

Hogan added that the hiring holds could also impact planned capital improvement projects.

City staff, including Huber Nickerson, warned city officials in 2022, that, without increasing and diversifying its revenues, the city faces a structural deficit — when its baseline expenditures are greater than its revenues — within the next few years.

Huber Nickerson also warned officials that forgoing the annual 1 percent property tax levy increase allowed under state law meant the city would miss out on the “compounding” effect connected to the annual increase on the city’s tax levy amount.

“When you look at 10 years, that’s $700,000 to $800,000 that you’ve lost and can never recover,” Huber Nickerson told the council in November 2022. “That’s one (full-time employee) or up to seven or eight (full-time employees) that you’ve lost, if you go out 10 years. … I strongly encourage you to consider that lost opportunity.”

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Despite those warnings, four council members — Don Chaney, Tim Hein, Leslie Lewallen and John Nohr — voted against the 1 percent property tax levy increase, which would have collected an additional $143,097 in 2023 for the city’s general fund, and cost the owner of a $624,000 house an additional $1.17 a month.

Three council members — Chaney, Hein and Lewallen — also voted against a new, 2 percent tax on the city’s water, stormwater, sewer and solid waste utilities.

That tax, which was expected to add around $1 million to the city’s general fund over the 2023-24 biennium, passed in a 4-3 vote, with “yes” votes from Nohr as well as Councilwoman Bonnie Carter and then-Councilman Greg Anderson.

To learn more about the city of Camas’ budget process, visit budget.cityofcamas.us.