No Perfect Time to Ask | City requests tax levy increase to offset compounding loss, protect fire and police service

You opened your tax bill this year and were shocked at the increase, right? 2017 Snoqualmie Valley property tax bills jumped, with the total tax rate for a typical Snoqualmie home increasing from about 12% to about 13%. Combined with rising assessed values, it’s a recipe for increasing property taxes – to the tune of a 15% jump for my own home.

Ouch, but it was expected.

The main reason for the  jump was voter approved levies. In 2015 the Snoqualmie Valley School District passed a $244 million capital bond to finally address school building and capacity needs. The district had not passed a capital construction bond since 2003 – so there was a lot growth to address. SVSD’s 20-year bond was estimated to add $1.29/1000 assessed property value. Also adding pressure this year were a couple of King County voter approved levies that added another .20/1000.

Property owners definitely saw a big property tax bill jump for 2017, but a similar large jump is not anticipated next year as the district’s comprehensive 2015 bond addressed longterm needs and no other large levies are currently on the ballot.

2015 and 2016 tax rate comparison charts for a Snoqualmie home. [Note: 2017 property tax bills are based on 2016 assessments.]

2015 and 2016 tax rate comparison charts for a Snoqualmie home. [Note: 2017 property tax bills are based on 2016 assessments.]

Bad Timing, Why ask Now Snoqualmie?

So why would the City of Snoqualmie pick now to ask voters for a levy lid lift? Mayor Matt Larson said because they need to if residents want emergency service levels to remain intact. For the past 15 years – since Tim Eyman’s Initiatve 747 passed that capped property tax increases at 1% over the prior year – the city has essentially been operating at a compounding loss of about 2%.

Larson said, “Eventually the loss catches up.”

Before Initiative 747, city councils were allowed to raise [their portion] of property taxes by 6% without voter approval. Most councils didn’t go this high, but legally they could. Larson explained that costs associated with running the city – like employee salaries, benefits and inflation – have risen by about 3% per year while state law capped raising the city’s portion of collected property taxes at 1%.  That is, unless they ask voters to approve an additional increase in the form of a levy lid lift.

The mayor commented that even Eyman never meant for the initiative to put cities in a operating hole. Rather it was aimed at making cities more efficient before going to voters and explaining the additional needed funding. Larson said the City of Snoqualmie has known since the initiative’s passage, and after multiple years of running at a loss, that it would have to approach voters.

Why you ask? Because Larson said unfortunately the City of Snoqualmie doesn’t have a large sales tax base and suffers from retail leakage, with an estimated 73 cents every resident pays for goods and services spent outside the city in places like North Bend and Issaquah. Additionally, with the buildout of SnoqualmieRidge almost complete, sales and REET taxes associated with the master planned community won’t be available to help offset the loss created by the 1% cap on property taxes.

So why aren’t the additional taxes from new homes enough to fill the gap? According to Mayor Larson, those new homes pay for services associated with them and the people residing in them – like roads, police, fire, schools, etc. And once those new taxes hit the tax base pool, they can’t grow more than 1% per state law – at least not without voter approval.

In the past, the city has also had to use tax revenue to address its deficiencies that existed prior to Snoqualmie Ridge – like deteriorating infrastructure due to decades of flooding that had the small city on the brink of bankruptcy prior to 2000. The result was an severely understaffed city and underpaid employees, which Larson said has been addressed over the past 15 years.

During the same time period Snoqualmie’s population has exploded  – from around 3,000 to now over 13,000. Interim Police Chief Schaffer said his department still has the same number of officers, though, and Snoqualmie service have increased 61%. The Snoqualmie Fire Department has added two new positions since 2001.

Mayor Larson said originally the city planned to ask voters for a levy lid lift in 2008, but when the recession hit they delayed it until 2012, which voters approved at 52%. That lid helped play catch up from for the previous decade and if that levy had been larger, this year’s ballot measure might not be needed, but Larson said they walked a fine line in 2012 of not wanting to make the lift too large and risk its passage.

2016 Tax Increase would Fund Fire, Police

The city says this 2016 proposed levy lid increase of .23/1000 assessed value would pay for one additional firefighter and two additional police officers. The additional cost for a home valued at $500,000 is estimated at $115/year or $10/month.

The additional funding would  maintain the police department’s ‘No Call to Small’ goal of responding to every 911 call and the fire department’s service standard goal of three firefighters on duty 24 hours a day and available to respond to more than one fire or emergency medical call at a time  If approved, the police department plans to add two detectives so that patrol officers can spend more time in community being what it calls proactive versus reactive, which Interim Police Chief Jim Schaffer says promotes community policing.

Questions have arisen in the community as to whether this additional tax funds would be dedicated to Snoqualmie policing, as the Snoqualmie Police Department also services North Bend. Mayor Larson said yes, and that the two police service areas are funded separately. North Bend tax dollars pay for North Bend officers and service and Snoqualmie tax dollars pay for Snoqualmie Officers and service. He did add, though, that in cases of serious emergencies in either city, all officers can respond, which is benefit to both cities.

Timing not Perfect, Funding still Needed says Mayor

So although the timing may be considered not optimal by many residents, the City of Snoqualmie says the property tax increase is needed to maintain appropriate emergency service levels. Mayor Larson commented there may never be a perfect time to ask, but that he hopes residents realize the portion of property taxes the city collects is just a small piece of the property tax pie, accounting for only about 20% of total property taxes.  He said he feels that 20%, along with the 38% that go to local schools, have the most direct and biggest impact on residents and the community at large.

Hope for a less property tax dependent Future

The city does hope to become less property tax dependent in the near future.  Larson said three upcoming development projects are predicted to help.  The new Snoqualmie Ridge Plaza, anchored by Safeway and Bartell Drugs, is estimated to bring a half million dollars in yearly sales tax revenue by 2022. The Salish Lodge expansion and old Mill Site projects are also each expected to bring about $450,000 in yearly sales tax revenue during the same time period.

For more information about the City of Snoqualmie Proposition 1 Levy Lid Lift proposal, including video of a recent Town Hall Presentation, visit the Informational Page HERE.

 

Comments

  1. This is a NO vote. We will be fine as-is. Go ask North Bend for the money. It wasn’t the Snoqualmie taxpayers’ decision to cover them and kick the KC sheriffs out. It was the North Bend city council for “budgetary savings”. http://sp2018tqmagru.wpengine.com/snoqualmie-police-start-patrolling-north-bend-march-8th-king-county-sheriffs-say-goodbye-40-years/

    • Danna McCall says

      North Bend and Snoqualmie Police services and officers are paid from two different funding sources so Snoqualmie cannot use North Bend funding for its officers and services. The increasing calls referred to the in story are Snoqualmie calls – not North Bend calls for service. Sorry it that wasn’t clear.

      • Abovethelaw says

        Snoqualmie Pd has always been over staffed, underskilled and over paid. Since Snoqualmie has taken over policing N.B. it has never been up to staff but why do we need more Officers. The chief just recently released crime stats that show felony crime dropped dramatically. Unfortunately the reason is not due to the excellent police services we are receiving, it is because the police are not proactive at all and do not no how to detect crime. The average person can see drug selling and open use (A felony) but apparently our Police Department can’t find them. To busy responding to barking dogs and other petty issues. The few Officers that have the ability to be proactive are afraid to do anything because if they fall outside of the Politically Correct City Standard, they know they will be hung out to dry regardless of whether or not they operate within the law. We are we paying these Officers over $100,000 per year, and now the City wants to add more Officers/detectives? What are they going to detect? Crime is down according to the Chief. Your average Officer should be able to figure whose dog is barking, we don’t need detectives to sit around and cost us more tax dollars. Bring back KC.

      • nonewtaxes says

        Hello, assign North Bend officers back to Snoqualmie and charge north bend more money to hire additional officers for them. No new taxes required for us.

  2. I’m a NO vote for this as well. I just don’t see any crime on the Ridge to substantiate the addition of two more police officers. I appreciate the work they do and I feel like we live in a safe neighborhood. However, one bit of feedback for the Police I would provide is that their officers dress like they’re some sort of paramilitary force. I don’t want an additional two officers driving around my neighborhood looking like an occupying army. Do they really need to be outfitted like we live in Southside Chicago? I’m curious about that.

    • Do you have examples of their paramilitary dress? They look to me like they are dressed the same as every other east side police officer.

      • Nothing specific I can recall right now without looking at them. One thing that pops to mind is how dark their uniforms are. I recall an instance where a couple cop cars arrived on the scene and converged on something happening on the Ridge. I had just recently moved here and I thought is was a SWAT team responding to a hostage situation. Realized afterwards it was the local police. Maybe this is how police on the Eastside all dress, I’m not sure, I honestly rarely have interaction with them. Still a bit unnerving to see from my perspective and I’m certainly not keen to see more of it.

  3. Mayor Larson is quoted in this article concerning the new property taxes on new houses in Snoqualmie Ridge: “According to Mayor Larson, those new homes pay for services associated with them and the people residing in them – like roads, police, fire, schools, etc”. Why then are new taxes required for the police department, and why has the size of the police department remained the same as more houses have been built on the Ridge?

  4. Ralph Schwartz says

    Perhaps if the Mayor and city council took cost cutting more seriously, there would be less of a demand to increase taxes. For example, the Mayor of Vancouver, Washington (population of 167,000) makes $67,000 a year, whereas Snoqualmie’s makes $80,000.
    For transparency’s sake, why not share how the addition of North Bend has affected the SPD’s budget? I would imagine that NB’s crime rate is a significant factor that is adding to this levy demand.
    Consider a Mayor and City Council who are all too willing to provide tax breaks and subsidies to new developments under the guise of low-income housing.
    Perhaps we should remind hizzoner and the council about the valuable land swap the city engaged in recently with a developer: the city gets swampland that could never be built on, and the developer gets to add additional traffic and blight to an increasingly green-space depleted city.
    Now the city is short change and wants a hand. I am now reconsidering my vote for the state legislature, it might have saved me from new taxes.

  5. Concerned Citizen says

    What most people do not know is that this tax increase can be up to a 6% increase, not just 1%. At the recent town hall, it was admitted by Mayor Larson that these additional tax dollars can be used to cover city hall expenses and employee costs and benefits. City Manager Bob Larson also admitted at the recent town hall meeting that 22 city hall staffers pay zero dollars per month toward their healthcare benefits. With the 30 % increases in healthcare cost each year mentioned in the article no wonder the city is out of funds. Why should city staffers be treated the same as our Police and Fire safety officers. I am all for our wonderful Police and Fire department getting what they need including fully paid benefits. They risk their lives for us. I do not feel the same about city hall employees. If the 22 city hall employees that are not union would contribute on average $500.00 per month toward their healthcare, that would provide $11,000.00 per month to hire addition police and/or fire staff. If they paid $1,000.00 on average depending on how many depends they have, that number would double to $22,000.00 a month available. This is just a power grab from our Mayor and city to raise our taxes using police and fire and the sole excuse. The law is written to allow the city to spend extra monies each year on any city expenditure. I think they need to learn to live within their means. This law should be rewritten to benefit police and fire only with extra dollars rolling over to the next year. I also found it ironic to read in the voters booklet that no rebuttal was available because no one stepped up to volunteer for committee. I read the paper and never recall seeing any advertisement for citizens to form a committee. Something is not right about this. I wish the media would provide the full story and protect citizens and their readers.

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