MONTESANO — Aberdeen Mayor Bill Simpson was celebrating Tuesday night upon hearing that Aberdeen voters were overwhelmingly approving a sales tax increase.
Before the vote, Simpson, and many other council members, worried the vote could have gone either way.
“Now, we just need to prove to the voters that we’re going to do them right,” the mayor said.
On the other side of Myrtle Street, Hoquiam Councilman Paul McMillan said he felt that a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders, hearing that voters there had approved a property tax hike to pay for a new fire engine ladder truck. Back in May of 2011, voters narrowly defeated the measure.
“You just don’t know the way these elections will go,” McMillan said. “I went to Montesano to see the results myself.”
With 61.6 percent voter approval, Aberdeen residents increased the city’s sales tax by 0.13 percent with the hope of generating between $500,000 and $600,000 annually, tagged just for city roads. Specifically, 1,377 voters cast ballots in favor of the measure and 857 voters were against it. The measure needed just a simple majority for approval.
The decision brings the city’s sales tax to 8.53 percent — the highest in Grays Harbor County. Other areas of the county will remain at 8.4 percent.
In Hoquiam, the vote was 74.36 percent in favor of the property tax hike. The measure needed 60 percent to pass. As of election night, 1,079 residents cast votes in favor of the proposal and 372 voted against it.
County elections administrator Julie Colacurcio said more ballots still need to be counted. The election tally doesn’t include ballots dropped off Tuesday at the Grays Harbor YMCA in Hoquiam or at the Auditor’s Office in Montesano or any other ballots that may come in by mail. But, given the trend of ballots, it’s unlikely there will be much change in the results.
The next ballot count is on Friday. The election is certified on Feb. 26.
Simpson said that the city needs to wait for the election to be certified, then it’ll be up to the state Department of Revenue to officially boost the local sales tax rate. Collections probably won’t begin until the third quarter of the year, Simpson said, citing information from his finance director.
The next step for the city of Aberdeen is to prioritize which streets will get paving work done first. Market Street is a primary contender for work, given its frequency of use and the number of pot holes and cracking “crocodile patches.” The sales tax provision will go away in six years, a requirement put in place by the Aberdeen City Council before sending it to the voters.
“We’ve got six years to prove we can do something that people notice,” Simpson said. “It’ll be nine months before we see any kind of funding and we can do anything, but we’ll move forward and repair as much as we can as we go along.”
Aberdeen City Councilman Jeff Cook said he could have seen “the election going either way.”
“But I’ve been talking to people lately and putting a little out on Facebook and everyone I’ve heard from — and that’s not a huge number of people — they were all in favor of it,” Cook said.
Cook said that he was much more in favor of the sales tax increase that a proposed $20 annual fee to car tabs.
The City of Hoquiam’s property tax measure is for a 20-year general obligation bond valued at $1.2 million to pay for a ladder truck. The city has said the cost would be an increase of 19 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value for Hoquiam property owners.
“We really needed this truck for both Aberdeen and Hoquiam, because with major fires, two of these trucks are really needed,” Durney said. “Our backs were really against the wall. Now, we’ll get what we need to serve the community. I’m really happy with it.”
McMillan, who served on a citizen committee lobbying for the ladder truck, said the plan is to go out for bid immediately after the election is certified.
“We want to get the truck immediately because it takes a while to build it,” McMillan said. “Hopefully, they have a demo available and if they do that’ll save the taxpayers some money, too.”
Durney said he heard from his fire chief that a demo model could be available come August, which could be an option the city pursues. But that would mean waiting half a year.
“I’m not sure if we want to do that,” Durney said. “We’re gong to explore all our options.”