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Council votes in property tax hike

By Kevin Hanson

The Courier-Herald

Living in Enumclaw just got more expensive.

Looking for more money to pay for essential city services, members of the City Council last week increased property taxes by 5.5 percent, approved rate hikes for sewer and water customers and took the first step toward increasing charges for garbage and yard waste collection.

When it came time to vote on the property tax increase, several members made it clear they offered their support grudgingly. “We tried not to go this route - we held out as long as we could,” Jeff Beckwith said. Jim Hogan said it was a difficult decision, but necessary “given the state of the finances of the city.” And Glen Jensen balked not at an increase, but at the amount of the hike, eventually voting “no” on the tax increase.

The 5.5 percent increase consists of two parts. The city is allowed, by law, to implement a 1 percent increase annually. The council has been able to skip that increase the past couple of years, but felt it was necessary this time around.

In years past, the limit was 6 percent. If a city took less, it was allowed to hold onto the unused taxing authority for future use if necessary. That's what occurred last week: in addition to the 1 percent tax increase allowed for 2006, the council used 4.5 percent of its “banked” capacity, bringing the total to 5.5 percent.

Jensen's objection was with the banked capacity. He favored using 4 percent rather than the suggested 4.5 percent.

The impact of the two-part increase was spelled out in a memo from the Finance Department and based on a home and property with an assessed value of $150,000. In that scenario, annual property taxes would be $345.72 with no increase, $348.79 with just the 1 percent increase or $362.64 with the full 5.5 percent increase.

The increases for sewer and water rates were anticipated, as council members had addressed the issue at a previous meeting and shown their preference for the level of rate hike implemented and a schedule for increases in future years.

The driving force behind the sewer increase is the planned improvement and expansion of the city's wastewater treatment plant, the largest project in city history. The state has ruled the current plant inadequate and its size has spurred a development moratorium that has stretched into years.

Plans for the project have been finalized and the city hopes to begin construction in 2006, with completion coming in 2007.

The rate increases are hefty, with a 27 percent hike coming Jan. 1, another 27 percent increase due Jan. 1, 2007 and a final 27 percent increase planned for the beginning of 2008. The new sewer rate will impact 3,246 customers. Of those, 2,720 reside in single-family homes, 306 are commercial accounts and 220 are in multi-family units.

The water rate increase is smaller, calling for a bump of 6.5 percent in each of the next two years.

The proposed increases for garbage and yard waste collection will be debated Monday night. That's the public's opportunity to weigh in on the proposed hikes. The meeting begins at 7:30 at City Hall, 1339 Griffin Ave.

City staff has recommended garbage collection fees be increased by 12.5 percent and yard waste collection by a whopping 67 percent. More money is necessary, according to a staff report, because annual expenditures have increased by $327,000 since 2000, the time of the last rate increase (3 percent). During that time, yearly revenues have increased $46,000.

Under the terms of the proposed increase, city customers paying the “single can” rate would see a monthly increase of $2.05 per month.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com.

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