Camas eyes new revenue sources

City leaders could tax utilities, charge vehicle tab fee

Camas leaders are considering a variety of new revenue source options, including utility taxes and city-specific vehicle tab fees.

Camas Finance Director Cathy Huber-Nickerson told Camas City Council members at a workshop held Monday, July 16, the city must supplement its revenue base if city leaders want to fully fund their desired levels of service in the future.

Camas Mayor Scott Higgins said council members have been discussing this issue for a while and that, while the city is “OK in the short-term,” council members need to figure out the best way to fund city services over the long-term.

In her presentation Monday night, Huber-Nickerson gave city council members an overview of the city’s six-year (2019 to 2024) general fund forecast.

The finance director said housing will continue to grow, but the city could experience a “soft recession” in 2020 and 2021. Earlier in the evening, Huber-Nickerson told council members a national trade war could “trigger a recession and higher prices.”

A construction slowdown would affect the city’s revenue from licenses and permits and could impact Camas’ sales tax revenues.

According to Huber-Nickerson’s presentation, without new revenue sources, the city will likely not have enough money to fund its desired levels of service by 2022.

The councilors are expected to review all of the new revenue source options at their August council meetings.

Huber-Nickerson said she will present more information about a possible transportation benefit district, which could charge a city-specific fee when Camas residents renew their vehicle tabs, at the council’s Aug. 6 meeting.

The finance director is expected to discuss utility taxes, which could include taxes on natural gas, telephone, cable, stormwater and garbage utilities, at the Aug. 20 meeting.

Once council members have decided which, if any, revenue options they hope to pursue, the public will have a chance to weigh in at open houses and public hearings.

“We wanted to give you as much time (as possible) to contemplate these big decisions,” Huber-Nickerson told city council members on Monday, adding that the projected Sept. 4 “council direction” listed in her presentation’s “next steps” would not be a final decision but, rather, “direction to go down the road to start public engagement.”

If council members decide to implement utility taxes or a transportation benefit district, they would be following the lead of many other Washington cities: nearly 70 cities, including Vancouver and Battle Ground in Clark County, charge $20 to $40 on vehicle tab renewals; and several Clark County cities, including Vancouver, Battle Ground, Ridgefield and Washougal have taxed utilities to supplement general fund revenues.

For more information about Camas’ six-year general fund forecast or the possible new revenue source options, visit ci.camas.wa.us/yourgovernment/minuteagendavideo and click on “Meeting Details” for the July 16 workshop meeting, and then click on the “REP 18-323” link on the left side of the page.