During a sometimes heated meeting before a packed chamber Tuesday night, the Liberty Lake City Council passed by a 5-1 vote a 1 percent property tax increase levy. The levy will raise the existing rate of $1.55 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $1.72, the maximum rate increase allowed without a taxpayer vote.
The increase, to take effect Jan. 1, 2011, is expected to raise just over $37,000 of extra revenue for the city in 2011. Ordinance 189 originally called for the tax increase to be $1.68, but a proposal was brought forth to raise it to the maximum of $1.72.
Mayor Pro Tem David Crump voted against the $1.72 increase during the debate on the proposal, but eventually voted for the levy after the $1.72 increase was accepted because “it needed to be passed,” before the Nov. 30 deadline on the Ordinance. Councilman Ryan Romney voted against the levy saying, “It’s not going to solve any problem. I’d rather have found it (revenue) a different way.”
Other council members were reluctant to vote for the tax increase, but felt there wasn’t a better alternative.
“I hate going back to the people,” said Councilwoman Cris Kaminskas of bringing a levy increase on top of the utility tax approved last month. Kaminskas was willing to “ask the voters to bear a small burden if it means keeping the library open more hours and keep people’s jobs,” referring to the staff positions cut back recently at the city library, golf course and city hall.
The council went through a second reading of the city budget for 2011, and the fireworks didn’t take long to go off on the proposed salary increases for the mayor and city council members included in the budget. Several citizens angrily expressed their frustration with the council and the mayor for even considering raises in the current economy, using terms like “absurd” and “beyond belief.”
Councilwoman Susan Schuler was more direct, saying the salary commission appointed earlier this year was in her understanding an “independent association” reviewing how the mayor and city council salaries measured up to other jurisdictions.
Schuler said she was “never, ever, made aware” a salary increase would be included as part of the budget and was “really irritated” that the mayor included it in the budget. At one point, Schuler, whose council term expires in 2012, said, “If someone won’t run against Wendy Van Orman in the next election, I will.”
Several council members said early in the meeting they would sign a waiver as part of the budget, refusing to accept the salary increase if it was voted into the budget. City resident Tracy Garza directly asked the council and the mayor if anyone of them would accept the increase when the vote came up, and Councilman Josh Beckett was the only one to raise his hand acknowledging he would. Garza pressed Councilwoman Judi Owens for a yes or no answer, and Owens retorted, “I’m not answering that question. You were here earlier in the meeting … you’ve heard my response.”