The Aberdeen City Council on Wednesday approved increasing four different utility rate hikes, increased property taxes and a few minutes later convened a special session to send a sales tax hike to voters in February.
Aberdeen Mayor Bill Simpson said he knows he’s asking a lot from Aberdeen residents, but the cash-strapped city doesn’t have much of a choice.
The council approved the first readings of ordinances to increase utility rates for water, sewer, storm and garbage. Two more readings are needed before final approval. The council also plans to increase the current rate for Emergency Medical Services. If all of the rate hikes are combined it would mean a $10.66 monthly increase to the current $104.34 average utility bill that gets a 65-gallon garbage tote picked up twice a month.
The rate hike is actually 40 cents higher than the one proposed just two weeks ago. That’s because the city had planned on a 2 percent increase for garbage services when it actually became 3.7 percent after the Grays Harbor County commissioners increased their fees higher than expected at the garbage transfer station in Junction City.
The city is looking at increasing EMS rates by 18 percent, sewer rates by 15 percent, water rates by 5 percent and stormwater rates by 8 percent. All of those increases would add up to a new total of $115 on a monthly utility bill and would kick in at the beginning of next year.
The council will conduct a public hearing on the proposed rate increases at its next meeting, 7:15 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 28 at City Hall.
The City Council has set a special election for Feb. 12, 2013 for the voters to consider a sales tax increase of 0.13 percent. All of Grays Harbor has an 8.4 percent sales tax rate, and the proposal would bring the rate within the city to 8.53 percent. Aberdeen would be the highest on the Harbor, although still less than the 8.7 percent rate in the Olympia area.
The tax hike specifically would go to road improvements. The sales tax request was made possible after the city created a special Transportation Benefit District a few weeks back. Per the approved resolution, the sales tax would go away six years after implementation.
The council has been talking about the potential sales tax hike for more than a year now.
Former Councilman Paul Fritts did ask the council to hold off on the special election and move it to later in the year, suggesting August as a good time. Fritts told council members he thought it was bad planning to hold the election in February, just a month after planned utility rate hikes are scheduled.
“You need to think and apply a little common sense if you’re going to raise rates of the citizens by $10,” Fritts said, noting most residents will see a sales tax hike as just another tax increase, not a way to fix roads. “How do you think the citizens are going to respond to that?”
Councilman Tim Alstrom supported going to the voters to let them decide the issue.
“I think we have a chance to pass it,” Alstrom said.
“I appreciate Paul’s input, but now is the time,” agreed Councilman Doug Paling.
On Wednesday, the council also approved the second reading of an ordinance to increase property taxes by 2.97 percent.
Because the city didn’t raise property taxes for the past two years, Finance Director Kathryn Skolrood said the city is taking that “banked capacity” and applying it to the city’s property tax rate next year. Because of variations in assessed values, that doesn’t necessarily translate to a direct 2.97 percent property tax hike for every resident, Skolrood said. A final reading of that ordinance is expected on Nov. 28.