City Council delays utility tax hearing, decision

Elected leaders favor more discussion on the issue

The Camas City Council has decided to delay its decision about whether to implement a series of new utility taxes.

During Monday’s regular City Council meeting, the group unanimously approved a motion to postpone a public hearing, originally scheduled for Monday at 7 p.m., until a date no later than June 1, 2017.

This action took place as a result of discussion that occurred during a workshop, held earlier in the evening. Several council members explained that while they support the reasoning behind the need to add new utility taxes to the city’s revenue stream, they believe more time is needed to study the issue in greater detail.

“I am OK with this utility tax. I understand the need for diversification,” said Councilwoman Shannon Turk, a member of the city’s finance committee. “The timing of it may be just a little off. Perhaps instead of trying to make this decision in order to pass a budget, maybe we could wait until January, February, maybe even March, in order to have this larger discussion.”

A proposal presented by city staff in October included adding 3 percent taxes on storm water and solid waste services, and 1 percent taxes on cable and telephone services. The taxes would have generated approximately $264,000 for the city annually.

In addition, in an effort to ease the burden on taxpayers in 2017 and offset the proposed utility taxes, the City Council would have first increased by 1 percent its annual property tax levy, generating approximately $110,000. Then the property tax rate would be lowered by $264,000 — from $3.19 per $1,000 of assessed property value to $3.12. The $264,000 of taxing capacity would have then be banked for a future tax year.

Establishing the utility tax was billed as a method of creating new funding sources for the municipality. Currently, 64 percent of the Camas government’s revenue comes from property taxes, while 36 percent is gleaned from sales tax.

Camas and La Center are the only cities in Clark County that do not currently collect utility taxes.

Taxes on cable and telephone service by law are capped at 6 percent. The other proposed taxes are not limited.

In an effort to educate the public on the proposal, outreach efforts included placing informational flyers in utility bills, and meeting with representatives from local businesses, as well as holding an open house on Nov. 10 where citizens could gather information and ask questions.

According to Councilman Tim Hazen, another finance committee member, more time is needed to wade through the intricacies of a utility tax and address concerns.

“I think as a whole we feel good about it. We are inclined to pass it,” he said, referring to the members of the finance committee. “But we want just a little more time to study it. We want to table it for now — now means today — but pick it up for serious discussion again in January.”

City Administrator Pete Capell said future utility tax discussions would get more specific when it comes to identifying how the tax revenues would be spent.

“Rather than applying a arbitrary nominal utility tax and reducing property taxes by a like amount to just create the same level of revenue to diversify our revenue source, we would take a look at the significant needs that the city has currently and that they have coming up in the future. [We would] identify those and then identify some of the costs associated with those,” he said. “Then we could look at an additive utility tax based on those things the council feels are necessary and warranted.”

Councilman Don Chaney said the decision to postpone the utility tax decision is justified.

“I think our action to do that tonight reflects the seriousness that this council takes adding a new tax to the citizenry,” he said. “I’m optimistic that while it may not be popular with some folks, we’ll do the right thing when it’s all done. We’re going to try to approach it with an open mind.”

To listen to the city council’s Nov. 21 discussion on the utility tax issue, visit