Ultimately deciding it was more about principle and less about the cash, the majority of the Spokane Valley City Council decided to forego collecting an available 1-percent increase in property taxes for 2013.
The amount – which would bring the city in about $108,000 – would cost the average property owner in Spokane Valley about 19 cents per month, according to city officials.
But while the tax would not be burdensome, it would send the wrong message to Spokane Valley citizens at a time when the economy is still struggling and the city has met its budget and has money in the bank, some council members said.
“This is not the time to raise taxes,” said Council Member Arne Woodard said.
Ultimately the council – minus Mayor Tom Towey, Deputy Mayor Gary Schimmels and Council Member Ben Wick – voted to approve an amended ordinance that would seek no property tax hike for next year.
Under state law, the city has to pass some type of ordinance in order to levy property taxes – a 1-percent increase is allowable.
At a public hearing on the proposed 2013 budget, some spoke out against the council seeking the tax.
“Just because we can do something doesn’t mean that we should,” said Lewis Higgins, former candidate for City Council. “It may seem inconsequential…(but) if the council feels it’s necessary to raise taxes, it should make its case and put it the voters to decide the issue.”
Shirley Rademacher agreed, saying the city had a “responsibility to expand the tax base, not the tax rate.”
“(The economy) is going to get worse,” she said. “We need people on the council who are going to serve the people, not themselves.”
Council Member Chuck Hafner said it was “very difficult” for him to approve a tax increase when the city is expected to have $25.6 million set aside next year.
“What’s it really going to do for us?” he asked. “$108,000 is very minimal, as far as I’m concerned.”
Wick argued, however, that Spokane Valley has an already very low tax rate, 222nd out of 281 cities in Washington state. If the city refuses the increase, it should remain consistent, he said.
“If we don’t take it, we shouldn’t consider any other fees,” Wick said.
Schimmels said the tax was a “soft touch” that wouldn’t have a large impact on taxpayers.
“I’d rather see a small amount and move in that direction,” he said.
Council Member Brenda Grassel countered that having a low tax burden is inviting to new businesses.
“I think it’s just inappropriate to tax now,” she said.
Towey said that he has heard from citizens that they are less concerned about the tax amount but rather what the city intends to do with the money. With the council’s priority on street preservation, extra money could be set aside for that purpose.
Grafos countered that could still be done without taxing citizens.
The next public hearing on the proposed budget is set for Oct. 9.