Camas City Council approves $170-million budget

City set to spend $3.8 million to purchase 115 acres of land; property valued at $20.1 million, with 60 acres donated

Monday evening, members of the Camas City Council approved their biennial budget, allocating $170 million in spending over the next two years. At their November meeting, the council voted to increase property taxes by 1 percent to help fund the budget. 

In spite of many weeks where multiple councilors expressed serious reservations about the unwillingness of Washougal to pay their share of three current fire/EMS positions, the council approved hiring four additional firefighters. 

In their two November council meetings, many council members indicated it would be wrong to hire additional firefighter/EMS personnel, when Washougal didn’t pay their full share of five new positions hired earlier in the decade. Washougal paid its share of two, with Camas footing the full bill for the remaining three positions. 

The Camas City Council approved the $170 million two-year budget proposed by the mayor. It authorizes the hiring of four new Fire/EMS positions. Graphic courtesy city of Camas
The Camas City Council approved the $170 million two-year budget proposed by the mayor. It authorizes the hiring of four new Fire/EMS positions. Graphic courtesy city of Camas

This fall, Washougal officials indicated they would continue to be unable to pay their share for more than the two positions. 

“The longer we keep kicking this can the worse the problem is going to get. I do not want it to delay,” said Councilor Greg Anderson at the Nov. 16 meeting. “We just can’t continue to impose this on our community and affect the other services that we provide,” Councilor Don Chaney added.

There was discussion about unwinding the agreement between the two cities and Camas “going it alone,” but there was none of that mentioned Monday night.

With this decision, Camas will be paying the full cost of five fire/EMS positions in the first year, and seven positions in the next year, as the authorization is to hire two people each year. In the interlocal agreement that created the Camas Washougal Fire Department, Washougal pays 40 percent of the cost and Camas pays 60 percent. Hiring the four new fire/EMS positions will increase the amount Washougal owes, making it more difficult for the Washougal City Council to meet the city’s financial obligation under the agreement.

Separately, the Camas council members were presented and approved of what was touted “a unique opportunity” to acquire 115 acres, adjacent to Ingle Road on Green Mountain. The staff had been negotiating the deal for a couple weeks. Some council members called it “too good to be true.”

The present owners, seven businesses and LLC’s, will donate 60 acres to the city. That land has a value of $15.5 million according to the contract. That donation and transfer must close by the end of the year.

Not later than Oct. 31, 2021, the city will purchase 55 acres of land adjacent to the 60-acre parcel, for $3.8 million. The two contracts are tied together. The city will also pay 50 percent of the closing costs for each parcel.

According to staff, the two parcels had a 159-home subdivision planned. According to the agenda, an appraisal for the property was “completed by the Sellers in September 2020 that placed a fee simple value on the total 115 gross acres at $20.1 million.”

Citizens might wonder why current property owners would give or sell $20 million of land for $3.8 million? That’s an 81 percent discount.

According to Steve Wall, Public Works Director, there was a city park planned for the development, with maintenance provided by the developers/owners for 10 years. That obligation would remain with the seller.

There were also two other agreements related to both sewer and transportation infrastructure. The city and the seller will amend the previous agreements to relieve both parties of their obligations under those agreements.

Wall mentioned the development was zoned at R10. The parks and recreation staff have envisioned Green Mountain as parks and open space in planning documents.

Camas will have 60 acres donated to the city and then purchase an additional 55 acres next year. Total assessed value was $20.1 million. The city will pay $3.8 million. Graphic by City of Camas.
Camas will have 60 acres donated to the city and then purchase an additional 55 acres next year. Total assessed value was $20.1 million. The city will pay $3.8 million. Graphic by City of Camas.

It was mentioned this agreement would remove those 159 lots from the city’s potential inventory of homes. 

The members of the council were briefed on the results of their Camas Housing Action Plan and a community survey during the meeting. Removing potential housing inventory might seem contrary to many citizens’ desire for more affordable housing, as expressed in the survey results.

This is the second major land acquisition by Camas in 2020. The city spent $17 million to acquire several parcels of land along the northshore of Lacamas Lake in April. 

The staff report said “there would be a loss in property tax revenue, Real Estate Excise Tax, utility revenues and bonding capacity assuming building of homes occurs; however, estimating the potential loss is difficult.”

Numerous options were presented by staff to pay for the land purchase, but nothing was agreed upon during the meeting. The agenda mentioned “city funds to be used towards purchase of the property will likely come from the City’s Real Estate Excise Tax Fund and/or a combination of general obligation bonds.” There was mention of possible grants. 

The council has until Oct. 2021 to put together the funds.

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