Discussion of 2012 tax rate includes warnings of dire consequences

A discussion of the city of Enumclaw's tax rate for 2012 drew dire warnings of economic distress Monday night, with a few verbal barbs tossed in for good measure.

Included as part of the reguarly-scheduled meeting of the City Council, a public hearing on the tax rate started with Finance Director Stephanie McKenzie noting the increase has a legal limit of 1 percent. The formula also accounts for new construction and, this year, a potential rollback of the rate charged to Enumclaw property owners.

For years, Enumclaw has collected taxes in support of the fire department. With the annexation of city land into Fire District 28, the council had talked of chopping the rate by 89 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property value.

That amount was previously allocated to fire services and city administration has prepared a 2012 budget reflecting that reduction in the tax rate.

But on Monday night, the council was presented with some taxing options that would include the 89 cents.

That didn't sit well with Councilman Mike Ennis, who was adamant a year ago that taxes be reduced when the city no longer pays for fire protection.

"We promised the public we would roll back the tax rate," he said Monday, "and council has told administration several times to keep that promise." Ennis made no effort to hide his unhappiness with options that called for spending some of the money.

Councilman Rich Elfers jumped into the discussion, adding that the council also has made a promise to protect the public's well-being. He later noted he had never personally promised to keep his hands off the money formerly used for fire department funding.

Addressing the council's intent to roll back the tax rate, City Administrator Mike Thomas warned that city services are in danger.

"There is a corresponding effect here," he said, noting that something will have to go if the potential funding source is ignored.

"The implications are going to be drastic," he added, citing a responsibility to give council a full slate of options – even if it means spending money that could be returned to taxpayers.

Losing the ability to collect the 89 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, Thomas said, takes the city "to the edge of the cliff."

McKenzie said ignoring the available 89 cents means the city will have to again dip into reserve funds to make ends meet. If that trend continues, she said, "we're going to flip over and go into a negative position within two years."

There were no public comments during Monday's public hearing. The public will have a second opportunity to weigh in Nov. 14 when the council hosts a second, and final, public hearing on the 2012 tax rate. The hearing will be part of the regular council meeting, which begins at 7:30 at City Hall, 1339 Griffin Ave.

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