Budget, fireworks, and a promotion at Camas City Council


Parks and Recreation promotion, a recommended tax increase, and a possible change to city fireworks rules part of busy meeting

The Camas City Council workshop and regular meeting earlier this week focused on three main items. The council continued its budget review and preparations for its next biennial budget. The council members reviewed fireworks sales and use regulations at the request of Councilor Greg Anderson, and revisited the elevation of the Parks and Recreation manager to a director level position.

Following the pushback that occurred at the Oct. 8 workshop, the council reached a compromise at their recent meeting. On Oct. 21, the city of Camas posted a job listing for a new director of Parks and Recreation. This is the result of current Manager Jerry Acheson announcing his retirement earlier this month.

The promotion from manager to director includes a starting salary range of $8,384-10,042 per month. At the Oct. 8 City Council workshop, Mayor Barry McDonnell and City Administrator Jamal Fox proposed elevating the position to director, with a 25-percent salary increase. The original proposed monthly salary ranged from $9,676 per month in the first year, to $11,591 in the seventh and subsequent years.

Budget

As part of their budget discussions, a wage increase for non-union employees was discussed. The Consumer Price Index for the west coast increased 1.7 percent; but because union contracts guarantee a minimum of 2 percent, the staff recommendation is a 2-percent raise. This will require an additional budget allocation of approximately $57,000.

Members of the Camas City Council continued its review of the mayor’s proposed budget. It includes a 2 percent pay raise for non-union employees and a possible 1 percent increase in the city property tax.
Members of the Camas City Council continued its review of the mayor’s proposed budget. It includes a 2 percent pay raise for non-union employees and a possible 1 percent increase in the city property tax.

City employee pay raises were 2-and-one-half percent last year and 3-and-one-half percent the year prior.

During overall budget discussions, Finance Director Cathy Nickerson reported that 80 percent of the city budget goes to personnel costs.

In Camas, the city gets most of its revenues from property taxes and sales taxes. They do not tax utilities, which are another source of revenue for most of the other cities in Clark County, according to Nickerson.

Regarding raising property taxes, state law allows each year’s levy to be increased by no more than 1 percent or the Implicit Price Deflator (IPD) whichever is less. The IPD for the 2021 property tax levy is 0.602 percent.

The city does have the option to increase the levy above the IPD by passing the Substantial Need Resolution. The city has passed this resolution each year as part of the 1 percent.

The city has three choices regarding property taxes. They can refuse to take any increase (up to 1 percent) and put that “in the bank”, for possible use in the future. They can raise taxes by the IPD, or take the full 1 percent allowed by law.

Nickerson talked about a “loss” due to the compounding effect, if the council chose to not take the full 1 percent increase this year. That equated to $792,214 taken from taxpayers over the next six years. It was presented as a loss of potential revenue.

A property tax increase on the “average” Camas home could raise taxes by $107 according to a city graphic, shown during the Oct. 8 council workshop. Graphic courtesy city of Camas
A property tax increase on the “average” Camas home could raise taxes by $107 according to a city graphic, shown during the Oct. 8 council workshop. Graphic courtesy city of Camas

It was mentioned that the increased cost to the owner of an “average” Camas home of $522,202 would be $13. Not mentioned was the cost of the inflationary increase in the home value and that impact on total property taxes paid by the homeowner. At the Oct. 8 meeting, a graphic showed a $107 total property tax increase.

The Clark County Assessor’s Office can provide exemptions for homeowners who are

within certain age and income groups as well as homeowners who may be disabled.

“Staff recommends the 1 percent property tax increase to preserve the base revenue source of the City’s General Fund and EMS Fund given the low financial impact to the average homeowner.” The EMS tax increase would be an additional $2.

Fireworks

Fire Chief Nick Swinehart gave an update. “Pretty much all of us receive emails of complaints about fireworks as well as emails in support of setting off fireworks each year.” 

The chief suggested there are three options moving forward. One is to maintain the status quo.. Another would be to completely ban fireworks, as the city of Vancouver has done. Or Camas could do something in between, which is what Washougal has done. That city passed an ordinance allowing only “safe and sane” fireworks; basically those that don’t shoot up in the air.

Fire Marshall Ron Schumacher reminded the council that everyone has been really restricting usage of fireworks around the county. It’s down to just one day in most cities; Battle Ground allows two days. Camas and a couple places allow fireworks on New Years Eve.

He mentioned that Vancouver has had its ban in place for three or four years. It worked well the first year, but now Vancouver officials say people are ignoring the ban and the use of fireworks is back to where it was before the ban.

There are a variety of fireworks regulations around Clark County as many cities have made recent changes. Vancouver has an outright ban. Battle Ground allows them for two days, and most others allow them to be used only on the 4th of July. The ilani Casino can sell them regardless of any prohibitions. Photo Mike Schultz
There are a variety of fireworks regulations around Clark County as many cities have made recent changes. Vancouver has an outright ban. Battle Ground allows them for two days, and most others allow them to be used only on the 4th of July. The ilani Casino can sell them regardless of any prohibitions. Photo Mike Schultz

Councilor Anderson said a regional set of rules on fireworks would eliminate confusion among citizens, and also make enforcement easier.

Councilor Melissa Smith said “For as long as I’ve been on Council, I have been against fireworks.” She expressed concerns for those with disabilities and those with PTSD.

Smith mentioned “it’s great for raising money for schools and other things, but times do change. We need to adapt and look at all our options, because to me, the fireworks has lost its meaning. You know, it’s not a real true celebration of the Fourth of July for me.”

Councilor Don Cheney said he is in the middle. He believes the people are split 50/50 on the issue and the council has to represent all the citizens. He suggested the council do a formal survey of the citizens.

Council Shannon Roberts shared her concerns. “I am loath to take another right away from citizens. But I’m also loath to the veterans who have PTSD, and the animals that it frightens as well.”

Councilor Ellen Burton asked if there is any difference from a public safety standpoint, between the safe and sane fireworks and the ones currently allowed. 

Chief Swinhart responded that there has never been any significant fire events due to fireworks in the city of Camas, There have been some injuries, but no conflagrations or forest fires or anything caused by fireworks.

Schumacher shared the definition of safe sane is anything that cannot go higher than one foot in air travel more than six feet.

Councilor Bonnie Carter brought up the fact that even if everyone bans fireworks throughout the county, people would likely go buy them from the ilani Casino because they have the right to sell anything.

“People still want their fireworks,” said Carter. “If we are going to force them into illegal action. I never want to give people that as the only option. I want them to know that they have a safe choice.”

The council agreed some type of community survey was best before taking any action on modifying fireworks law. Any changes made would take a year before going into effect.

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About The Author

John is a retired airline pilot, serving Delta for over 31 years. Prior to Delta, he served in the US Air Force for 11 and a half years; three and a half years as a Public Affairs Officer and eight years as a pilot. John flew multiple airplanes around the world for Delta, retiring as a B-767 Captain. During his 31 years at Delta, John served as a member of the pilot’s union leadership, representing the Portland-based pilots for five years. John got involved in area politics during the Columbia River Crossing debate. He became a citizen activist, speaking out against wasteful spending and fighting for common sense transportation solutions. He ran for the Washington state legislature twice, a Representative position in 2014 and Senate in 2020. John is the eldest of six children. He remains extremely close with members of his family and lives in Oregon and Washington. He has 14 nieces and nephews and a growing number of “grands” in the next generation. John has enjoyed skiing, scuba diving, travel, and time on his Harley when he’s not busy with local issues or flying.

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