Members of County Council vote to raise property taxes

Addition of Sue Marshall to the council in District 5, sways the vote in favor of raising citizens’ property taxes

In a marathon end-of-the-year meeting Tuesday that included the business of the 2023 budget hearing, members of the Clark County Council voted to approve a County Property Tax Levy Option for the 2023 General Fund.

As a result of the 3-2 vote, Clark County residents will see a 1 percent increase in their property taxes. In addition to approving that annual 1 percent increase available to tax districts by law, the councilors also voted to approve the use of its banked capacity to increase property taxes even more.

The 1 percent increase will add $727,078 to the General Fund ongoing revenues. According to projections provided by county staff, the 1 percent increase will result in a $3.98 increase on the taxes for a $525,000, median-priced home in Clark County.

The approval of using the banked capacity as an increase will add an additional $584,698 to the General Fund ongoing revenues. The banked capacity increase of .80417 percent is estimated to increase the taxes on a $525,000 median-priced home in Clark County by $3.21. Together, the tax increase will amount to $7.19 annually on a median-priced home in the county.

There were additional taxes approved by the councilors Tuesday including a tax for roads and a tax for parks.

Sue Marshall
Councilor Sue Marshall

Councilor-elect Sue Marshall, abruptly sworn in to the District 5 seat last week, joined outgoing Councilors Temple Lentz and Julie Olson in voting to raise the property taxes of county residents. County Chair Karen Dill Bowerman and Councilor Gary Medvigy voted against the increase. Each of the five councilors acknowledged that the 2023 budget, which was also approved by the same 3-2 vote, was balanced without the tax increase.

“It is an excellent budget that prioritizes many of the needs,’’ Marshall said. “It takes into account uncertainty that is still ahead and increased demand. I think it is a prudent approach.’’

Even though County Manager Kathleen Otto was able to present the councilors with a balanced budget that didn’t require any cuts in county services, Marshall and the outgoing councilors still supported the property tax increase. Marshall said when she was campaigning for the Nov. 8 general election, she routinely heard from area residents that they wanted more services.

“To a person, one of the things we talked about consistently was government services and the need to provide government services,’’ said Marshall, who also pointed out that “all of the small (Clark County) cities voted to take their 1 percent increase. Taking a vote to increase taxes is not an easy vote to take but they’ve taken those votes.

Councilor Julie Olson
Councilor Julie Olson

“This is one of my first votes,’’ Marshall added. “It’s not easy to take something when I know people are suffering out there. But, on the flip side, I think this budget provides a lot of services to those people who are suffering.’’

Olson added, “we have a healthy budget right now. We are not advocating for anything other than responsible governing. That is what this is all about. I resent the idea that if we vote for this that we don’t care.’’

Lentz echoed sentiments previously expressed by Olson that “this is one of the best deals around,’’ referring to the services county residents receive for the amount they are taxed.

Councilor Temple Lentz
Councilor Temple Lentz

“We’re in a reasonably solid position for the short term, but we are also looking at many long-term items that we know need to be addressed,’’ Lentz added.

Councilor Gary Medvigy
Councilor Gary Medvigy

A frustrated Medvigy said it was the best budget he has seen since joining the council and that after pouring over the 271-page document provided by County Manager Otto and her staff, “there is nothing that cries out for us to raise taxes right now. In fact, just the opposite is true. Clearly, by the budget that Kathleen (Otto) and her staff have put together, we don’t need to raise new taxes.’’

The councilors heard testimony from elected officials, county staff and citizens during the first budget hearing on Monday.

“I reflected on the testimony from the electeds and the testimony of those not elected, simply citizens,’’ Bowerman said. “It was striking to me that the electeds really wanted us to go for that 1 percent (increase) and not one of the people who were here testifying as citizens pushed that at all and in fact pushed the opposite.’’ 

Karen Dill Bowerman
County Chair Karen Dill Bowerman

Bowerman spoke of the “psychological stress” many citizens are experiencing as a result of rising inflation rates as well as higher gas and grocery prices.

“We have a budget that is stable and balanced without additional tax for years; what a blessing,’’ Bowerman said. “Let’s go forward without adding to citizens’ stress. Instead, when it is needed, let’s talk about how we are going to handle the situation. 

“Inflation is up but wages often aren’t a match,’’ Bowerman said. “Those on a fixed income continue to slide down farther in purchasing power as prices increase. We are at a 40-year high with our inflation rate. It is phenomenal that that is the case, but it is.’’

When Marshall was sworn in to her District 5 seat last week by Auditor Greg Kimsey, she replaced Dick Rylander, who was appointed by Gov. Inslee earlier in the year. Bowerman, Marshall and Rylander were each under the impression that Marshall would not be sworn in to the District 5 position until Jan. 3, after the council voted on the 2023 budget. Rylander had publicly stated that he would not vote for the property tax increase, so the outcome of Tuesday’s vote would have been different had Marshall not accepted Kimsey’s offer to be sworn-in after the election was certified.

Rylander posted on social media that he waited through five hours of the Tuesday meeting to testify against the tax increase. Rylander said “by voting no there was no significant impact of the budget for 2-3 years.”

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