A new tax on utilities in Eatonville will begin in August and may increase next year, depending on whether voters have a say.
The Town Council last week approved a temporary tax of 6 percent on telephone, cable television and garbage collection services. It will take effect Aug. 1 and continue for six months before ending automatically on Feb. 1 next year. The revenue it generates is to be used to help the town pay for its Police Department.
Still to be decided is whether the council will ask voters this fall to approve a longer-lasting utility tax at a possibly higher rate. It would kick in after the temporary one expires.
A utility tax is one of Mayor Ray Harper’s proposals for closing a hole in the town’s budget and improve the town’s ability to cover the cost of essential services, including public safety.. Also being considered is the creation of a fire district that would fund the Fire Department through a property tax assessment.
Another revenue proposal is a transportation benefit district. If approved, it would allow the town to add $20 to vehicle registration fees that Eatonville residents pay to the state. The added fee would return to the town to be spent on small street projects, including maintenance and resurfacing, officials said.
The transportation district was formally introduced last week to the council, which scheduled a public hearing on it for June 11.
The council approved the temporary utility tax on a 3-2 vote May 29. Council members Bob Schaub, Abby Gribi and Gordon Bowman favored it; Brenden Pierce and Jim Valentine voted against it.
Support for the new tax grew after Harper recommended in March that the town disband its police force and replace it with contracted service from the Pierce County Sheriff Department. The county would have been paid approximately $390,000 a year. That’s about $200,000 less than the $600,000 the town has budgeted this year for its own, five-officer department.
Public sentiment at council meetings in March and April was strongly in favor of keeping the department, and some citizens said they were open to paying more taxes to meet the expense of police service. The council responded by voting April 23 to preserve the town’s police, followed by last week’s approval of the utility tax and the potential for a larger tax measure to go before voters. The council must decide on the latter by August in order to meet the deadline for submitting ballot measures to be part of the November general election.
Harper doesn’t plan to bring back the county option for law enforcement as a way to cut costs. But he and council members are still searching for ways to afford police protection and improve the town’s budget, which is at a deficit.
If any officers leave the department for jobs elsewhere, they might not be replaced – one of the ways the town could reduce its costs, the mayor said.
“All we can do is see the needs and bring forward some possible solutions,” Harper said.