December 8, 1997
Utility tax tabled until 1998
by Andrew Walgamott
WOODINVILLE--At last week's City Council meeting, the sweet smell of $539,000 in proposed utility tax revenues attracted the attention of Woodinville parks' enthusiasts who expressed interest in a slice of the money pie originally cooked up for street improvements. Still, the council won't make a decision on whether or not to levy a city-wide two percent tax on electricity and natural gas, and a four percent tax on telephones and garbage service until next January because the issue was tabled after discussion.
Though using utility taxes for street projects had had the full support of the council when it was brought up Nov. 17, Deputy Mayor Don Brocha last week wondered if revenues should be set aside for buying park lands in light of the upcoming land-hungry Parks, Recreation and Open Space Plan (PRO Plan). Parks and Recreation Director Lane Youngblood told the council she would be recommending a "very heavy strategy of acquisitions" when the PRO plan comes before the council in January. The plan, a shopping list for parks, identifies a number of private and public properties that could be purchased or developed for parks in the coming years to meet existing and future demand for such facilities.
Randy Ransom, Parks and Recreation Commission vice chair and councilman-to-be, expressed concern with locking a utility tax in for road projects only. He said there needed to be a revenue source to support the PRO Plan. But Councilwoman Barbara Solberg said she wouldn't support a utility tax for parks. Instead she recommended prudent fiscal spending. "I think we, like our citizens, have to look carefully and prioritize our funding," Solberg said. In response to claims that a tax collecting around $550,000 could leverage a $6 million loan, Solberg said, "All this does is gives us more borrowing power to get us deeper into the hole."
Still, Jim Katica, finance director, said city staff had taken their direction on the tax from the council who gave the nod to a number of street projects that the public works department was proposing. "We've got to have money to do these things. We can't click our heels together and expect money to show up," Katica said. Councilman Scott Hageman said infrastructure needed to be kept up. "Without increasing our revenue stream, how are we going to be anywhere close to providing the quality of life our citizens moved here for?" Hageman said. "We're talking about our citizens' lives. We have to spend the money."
Brocha moved to table the tax ordinance until January, and it was seconded by Solberg. The council voted 4-2 to approve the motion, with Councilwoman Marsha Engel and Hageman voting no. Councilman Art Saulness was absent. In January, a new council with Ransom and Carol Bogue will look at where utility tax revenues will go.