Battle Ground’s sales tax proposal is stuck in discussions
Rick Bannan / [email protected]
Proposals to enact a retail sales tax within the city limits of Battle Ground for road maintenance and projects have not received enough support from city councillors, although potential votes on measures to vote in November or February are not completely irrelevant.
At its June 21 meeting, council rejected three motions regarding a sales tax increase for the city’s transportation benefit district. Since April, the council has discussed either enacting a 0.1% raise or implementing a raise of up to 0.3% in front of voters.
If approved, a tax is expected to provide $800,000 in revenue to the transportation district per 0.1% increase. The discussion on taxation comes as the city considers ways to fund road maintenance to maintain or exceed current conditions.
At the June 21 meeting, staff recommended a 0.2% levy, which would provide the city with sustainable funding that would prevent the city’s road conditions from falling further behind the ratings.
Councilman Shane Bowman likened the tax to a recycling deal that maintains weekly service with a $2-per-month increase, which the city approved just before the sales tax discussion. It would take $24,000 in gross household retail purchases to reach the level of a 0.1% increase.
“I haven’t had a neighbor complain about the garbage. No neighbors complained about water or sewer. I’ve had a lot of people complain to me about the roads,” Bowman said.
He also referenced a previous meeting where the council voted against supporting a countywide public safety sales tax measure. Councilors argued the county was trying to make up for its own poor funding practices by placing some of the burden on cities.
“That 100% goes to our community,” Bowman said of the transportation sales tax.
Mayor Philip Johnson noted that the tax would be paid by people who patronize businesses within the city limits and would not just affect residents who live in Battle Ground.
“It’s not just the 21,000 to 22,000 of us who live in the city, it’s the others (60,000) who come to visit us,” Johnson said.
Johnson reiterated a position he had taken in previous meetings. He doesn’t want to be a council member who puts off road maintenance that future councils will have to deal with.
Bowman agreed that improving roads is a major concern for the city.
“You won’t have economic development if you have shitty roads,” Bowman said. “If you don’t fix what you have, no one wants to do business with you.”
Deputy Mayor Cherish DesRochers said she believes the 0.1% tax council could pass alone would be enough to improve the city’s roads.
“My concern is that if we push the 0.1% and put it to a vote (later) people are going to be upset that we raised their taxes anyway, so they might not support it” , said DesRochers.
A majority of the council voted against increasing the “advisory” sales tax by 0.1%, as well as a 0.2% increase in the November or February ballot.
Councilman Adrian Cortes pushed back on leaving the decision up to voters, in part because of the cost of holding a special election. Those against voting in the November or February ballot questioned whether that gave the council enough time to set the stage for the ballot measure to pass successfully.
Cortes said the council does not have a people’s vote on all of its decisions, such as when it approves the city’s annual budget.
“They elected us to make these tough decisions,” Cortes said.
Cortes also attempted the county sales tax again, which he said was evidence of “extraordinarily sloppy leadership” by Clark County Council.
“It would do me good to know that this money is staying in our community, it’s not going to the county to fund pet projects,” Cortes said.
Cortes said any sales tax measure should be as successful as the city’s 2020 annexation in Clark County Fire District 3. Although the annexation raised property taxes on those in the city , the extra funding was used for a variety of municipal services, which included roads.
“It was really an initiative where we communicated well with voters and followed through on everything we said we were going to do with that extra revenue,” Cortes said.
Although the council has rejected the potential sales tax measures, it may revisit the issue next month. After an investigation by a few advisers into bringing the issue back, Battle Ground City Director Erin Erdman said anyone on the “dominant side” of the options being considered — in this case, those who rejected the options — can decide to reconsider it at the board. July 5 meeting.