Voters to face tax issue in February

By Kevin Hanson

The Courier-Herald

Enumclaw property owners will decide early next year if they want to improve the level of fire protection they receive. There's a plan on the table to add two career firefighters to the local department, but voters will need to pass a tax levy to pay for the additional staffing.

The decision to place a levy on the Feb. 1 ballot was made at the most recent meeting of the Enumclaw City Council.

While the desire to improve the fire department wasn't an issue, council members disagreed over how to pay for the upgrade. The majority stuck with the idea to ask taxpayers for the additional money in the form of added property taxes; others felt the city should simply bump up the local property tax rate without putting the matter before the public or, as another alternative, spend the money normally put into reserve accounts.

The city, through the years, has often refused to increase property taxes, or authorized a lesser amount than the law allowed. The "unused" tax increases are "banked," and can be levied at a later date. That was one option available this time around.

Councilman Sean Krebs has been outspoken in his desire to see the issue decided by voters. Getting a mandate from the public, he said, "is the most viable, permanent, long-term funding source."

Also, Krebs said, voters across the state have said - through the initiative process - they want tax increases limited to 1 percent annually, or less.

Jeff Beckwith agreed with putting the proposal up to a public vote. "If we're going to raise taxes, it should go before the voters," he said.

Councilman Mike Ennis took the opposing view. He argued that each council member was elected to make tough decisions for the public good, not ask for public permission every time a sticky issue arises.

Also, Ennis opposed the idea of spending public money on an election, when the council has the ability to resolve the issue in-house.

Councilman Kevin Mahelona admitted to "a lot of heartburn" over asking voters to increase their property tax, when the city already has the necessary money in hand. The city puts enough cash in reserve accounts each year, he said, to fund the additions to the fire department staff.

In the end, the council agreed to put a measure on the ballot asking property owners to bump their tax rates by 9.3 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. That equates to an additional $18.60 per year for the owner of property assessed at $200,000.

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