Camas Council OKs 1% property tax levy increases

New revenues are earmarked for street preservation, EMS

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Despite strong objections from one council member, the Camas City Council has approved taking the annual 1% property tax and emergency medical services tax levy increases allowed under state law.

During the Council’s regular meeting Monday, Nov. 20, Councilwoman Jennifer Senescu said she “can’t agree with these taxes and these levies.”

“We can’t keep taxing our citizens,” Senescu said Monday, before casting the lone “nay” vote against taking the allowed 1% levy increases that help the City keep pace with rising salaries and increases to employee health benefits.

Camas Finance Director Cathy Huber Nickerson explained to Camas City Council members during a Nov. 6 Council workshop that the 1% increases do not signify a 1% increase to individual tax rates but, rather, impact the overall tax levy amount collected by the City.

Huber Nickerson told the Council Nov. 6, that, in 2024, taking the 1% property tax levy increase would add around $146,000 to the City’s general fund, expand the City’s overall tax levy to $15,081,851 and increase the tax rate from $1.84 to $1.86 per $1,000 assessed property value (APV).

Due to decreasing property values, Huber Nickerson added that, even with the property tax and EMS tax levy increases allowed by state law, the average Camas homeowner is expected to pay less for their city of Camas property taxes in 2024 than they did in 2023.

The finance director has cautioned city officials that the annual increases are necessary to keep pace with rising costs of providing City services, including police, fire, EMS, streets, parks and recreation, community development, library, court and cemetery services.

Huber Nickerson said in early November, that, although the City’s expenditures — including salaries and benefits for City employees — have increased by more than 1%, the state limits cities and other jurisdictions from increasing property tax levies by more than 1% annually. Not taking the annual increase, according to Huber Nickerson, compounds over time and would equal around $1.3 million in lost revenues over the next 10 years.

“It’s important because it’s your only growth in property taxes,” Huber Nickerson told the Council on Nov. 6.

The Council voted 4-3 in 2022, against taking the 1% property tax levy increase in 2023. Instead, the Council decided to “bank” the levy increase with the option of using that banked capacity later for a dedicated purpose.

On Monday, the Council voted 5-1 — with Senescu voting “nay” and Councilwoman Leslie Lewallen having left the meeting early due to illness — to take the allowed 1% property tax levy increase for 2024, and use the banked capacity from 2023, for a total tax levy increase of 1.65% and a three-cent tax rate increase from $1.84 to $1.87 per $1,000 APV.

The Council also opted Monday to dedicate these additional funds, which will increase the City’s total property tax levy amount for its general fund by $243,049, to maintaining and preserving Camas’ streets.

The Council also voted 5-1, with Senescu the only “nay” vote, to take a 1% levy increase for its emergency medical services (EMS) levy. That increase will add $25,453 to the total EMS levy amount and increase the EMS levy tax rate to a little over 32 cents per $1,000 APV.

The annual impact on the owner of a median-priced ($649,124) home in Camas for the general fund and EMS levies is $1,430 ($1,217 for general fund and $213 for EMS) annually, which Huber Nickerson said will likely be $145 less than that same homeowner paid for city property taxes in 2023, due to a decrease in home values.

Council also approves climate agreement with Clark County, small cities

Camas officials also approved an interlocal agreement that is expected to help Camas, Washougal, Clark County and other regional small cities and towns gather data to help guide climate change planning.

Camas Community Development Director Alan Peters told Council members Nov. 6, that Camas will need to join other jurisdictions across Washington state in meeting the goals of House Bill 1181, which calls for Washington government entities to “plan for climate change impacts as part of their comprehensive planning processes” and requires Washington state governments to include “sub-elements” in their comprehensive plans that address plans to reduce greenhouse gases and to become more resilient in the face of expected climate-change disasters such as flooding, drought, wildfires and extreme heat.

Peters said Nov. 6, that the city of Camas is just beginning its required comprehensive plan update, and has received a $500,000 state grant to address the climate change requirements in its new comprehensive plan and to implement future climate-related policies.

Joining the ILA with Clark County, Battle Ground, La Center, Ridgefield, Washougal and Yacolt for cooperative climate planning, will allow Camas to better identify its greenhouse gas sources, as well as its risk from climate change, Peters said.

“We will go together to gather some data and then independently develop our own goals and policies,” Peters said Monday.

Earlier in the month, Peters explained that Camas will still have its own team to help form Camas-specific climate goals and policies, but said the interlocal agreement with the county and other Clark County small cities and towns will give Camas a better idea of what its climate risks really are and where the City might want to focus its greenhouse-gas reductions.

The City will use $40,000 from its $500,000 state grant to pay for Camas’ share of the agreement, Peters said Nov. 6, adding that Clark County will administer the contract.

During the Camas City Council’s regular meeting Monday night, Councilwoman Leslie Lewallen said she had questions about the climate agreement and wanted to pull the issue from the Council’s consent agenda.

Mayor Pro Tem Don Chaney pulled the agreement from the consent agenda and said the Council could discuss it after the regular meeting agenda items.

By the time the Council addressed the climate-planning agreement, however, Lewallen had left the meeting.

“She is not feeling well and likely will not return,” Chaney said of Lewallen a few minutes after the councilwoman had asked for the interlocal agreement to be pulled from the consent agenda.

Councilman Tim Hein asked if the Council should consider waiting to vote on the agreement until Lewallen had a chance to ask her questions, but Peters said the county had wanted responses from cities by Tuesday, Nov. 21.

“This is something we’ve been working on for several months with Clark County’s planning department,” Peters explained. “They’ve requested that each city provide their answer by Nov. 21, which is tomorrow.”

In the end, all of the Council members present — which included everyone except Lewallen — voted unanimously to sign the interlocal climate agreement.