Washougal voters will weigh in on mayor, tax levy

City has two propositions on Nov. 3 general election ballot

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Washougal Mayor Molly Coston (left) attends a Nov. 13, 2018 Washougal City Council meeting. (Post-Record file photo)

The city of Washougal has placed two propositions on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.

Proposition 9 asks voters to decide whether they’d prefer to directly elect Washougal’s mayor every four years or to continue to allow council members to select one councilor as mayor every two years.

Currently, Washougal’s mayor is chosen from the councilors, by the councilors, every two years, a process resulting from a 2018 proposition that changed the city’s form of government from a “strong mayor” system to a “council-manager” format.

“If there’s one comment that I get regarding this particular topic, it’s almost 100 percent that people feel like they should elect the mayor,” Washougal Mayor Molly Coston said during a June council workshop session.

The resolution that placed the change-of-government option on the ballot in 2018 contained a provision stating the council’s intention to bring the mayoral vote issue to voters in the future if they approved the council-manager form of government.

“We did tell the voters that we were going to place this on the ballot,” Coston said in June, “and I believe that probably tipped some voters into voting for this change in the form of government — that they would still have an opportunity to elect a mayor.”

If a majority votes in favor of the proposition, council position No. 1 will be designated as the mayor and will be elected at-large to a four-year term beginning with the November 2021 election. If a majority votes “no,” the council will continue to select one councilor as mayor every two years.

Councilors Brent Boger, Alex Yost and Julie Russell signed the proposition’s “statement for,” which was included in the local voters’ pamphlet. The statement emphasizes the fact that the mayor’s duties — having one vote on the council, serving as the chair for meetings and being the face for city government — will remain the same as they are now.

“This proposed process empowers the will of the people and is superior to the current method of selection of only four council members picking the mayor. The mayor should represent all of the people,” the statement reads. “When you select the mayor, you agree that the mayor is recognized internationally as the leadership position in any city. Your vote to select the mayor acknowledges that the mayor represents all citizens in our city, to the mayors of other cities worldwide and to other elected officials at all levels. Voting to select the mayor … will strengthen our council manager form of government.”

Councilors Paul Greenlee and Michelle Wagner and former councilor Ray Kutch signed the “statement against,” which argues that “previous elected mayors set secret agendas; isolated council from staff, information and reports; and caused significant problems for Washougal.”

“Elected mayor adds unnecessary bureaucracy and confusion without useful purpose,” the statement reads. “Selection by council majority allows proper vetting of experience and qualification. Council choosing its chair leads to better council legislative function. Mayor should serve the Washougal community and not an ago. An elected mayor, even though incompetent or worse, isn’t easily removed. You’re stuck. Four years is too long for a title with no authority.”

Proposition 10

Proposition 10 will ask voters to renew a six-year property tax levy for the city’s share of the funding for the Camas-Washougal Fire Department.

The city annually assesses a property tax levy, which includes funding for fire services and by law cannot increase by more than 1 percent per year without voter approval. A “lid lift” allows the levy to be increased beyond the 1-percent cap by voter approval of an additional rate.

In 2014, Washougal voters approved a “lid lift” to maintain the city’s fire, emergency medical and ambulance services at a cost of 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. That levy, which garnered more than 58 percent of the votes, is set to expire at the end of 2020.

A 10-cent lid lift would bring the city $239,000 and institute a $1-per-month increase to the owner of a $400,000 home, City Manager David Scott said during a July 13 virtual workshop session.

Earlier this year, Scott said that if the proposition doesn’t pass, the city could potentially have to make cuts which could threaten the agreement with the city of Camas that facilitates the fire department.

As part of a community survey commissioned by the city of Washougal earlier this year, 82 percent of respondents indicated that they’d be willing to approve a lift of at least 10 cents; 60 percent indicated that they’d approve a lift of at least 15 cents; and 44 percent indicated that they’d vote to approve a lift of at least 20 cents.

“As we know from our recent survey in March, voters pretty much overwhelmingly showed strong support for a replacement of 10 cents, and diminishing support for amounts higher than that,” Coston said during a July council meeting.

The “statement for” the proposition, submitted by Boger, Kevin West and Rod Morris, says that “the levy is essential for public safety.”

“Many of the improvements in the services provided can be attributed to the previous passage of this levy,” the statement reads. “We must have the right resources for rapid response and have the right skills to save your life or that of your family. We must be proactive and make sure fire and EMS services for Washogual are ready and waiting to ensure a positive outcome because in an emergency, every minute counts.”

No “statement against” was submitted.