Yakima voters will decide whether to raise the city’s property taxes beyond the 1% annual increase allowed by state law.
Steve Groom, the city’s finance director, told the Yakima City Council in 2019 that the levy rate of around $2.70 per $1,000 of assessed property value would not keep pace with needs.
The proposition will ask voters to approve a levy rate not to exceed $3.10 per $1,000 of assessed value, which is an increase of 40 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, for collection in 2021. For a home assessed at $200,000, the increase would be $80 annually.
While the state allows cities a 1% annual property tax without going to voters, city staff said the actual costs for city services and operations have increased approximately 2.5% a year.
Ballots went into the mail this week and are due Feb. 11 in the special election.
If approved, the tax rate increase would bring in about $3 million in additional revenue for the city’s general fund, which primarily supports police, fire, parks and streets initiatives. The additional revenue would be available in 2021 to maintain existing city services, such as paying for salaries and benefits, general liability insurance, police vehicle replacement, graffiti removal and crime prevention, city staff said.
City spokesman Randy Beehler said the city likely will have to reduce or eliminate city services if voters decide against the proposition. He pointed to past projects the city chose not to fund given a lack of resources, including a police department traffic unit that focused on semi-trucks, a police public information officer position, and a fire department public education and outreach position.
“Those positions and programs that have been reduced or eliminated likely are not going to come back without additional funding,” Beehler added.
State law allows City Council members to advocate for or against a ballot measure. On Tuesday, the Yakima City Council voted 5-1 against passing a resolution in support of the levy lid lift proposition, with Councilwoman Kay Funk voting in favor and Councilwoman Soneya Lund absent. Council members said that while they believed the extra money was needed for city services and projects, they want voters to decide whether they wanted their taxes raised.
Two community members spoke at the council’s Tuesday meeting about the proposal. One shared concerns that the cost was too much to ask taxpayers to carry. Another said any revenue amassed through a voter-approved levy lid lift should go toward fire department priorities.
Beehler said a looming cost for the city will be the replacement of about 70 aging police vehicles he said are necessary for the police department.
“If the proposition doesn’t pass, we will figure it out somehow, but it will come at the cost of other services,” he said. “The bottom line is that without the funding, the city will have to reduce or eliminate other services.”