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Public safety levy eyed

3:02 pm July 19th, 2012

The Dispatch

Voters in Eatonville may be asked to add a local property tax that would help pay for the town’s public safety services.

A levy for the general election in November would raise $160,000 a year in tax revenue if, as proposed so far, a rate of $1 per $1,000 of assessed valuation is approved by voters.

The Town Council must first formally decide on the rate and whether to put the proposal on the ballot for the Nov. 6 election. Those decisions could come at the July 23 council meeting in order to meet the deadline of Aug. 7 for notifying the Pierce County elections department about ballot measures.

Mayor Ray Harper said the levy, if it goes before voters and is passed, would do two things: Help offset an expected drop next year in the town’s funding through property taxes, and prevent a possible reduction of Fire Department services.

The assessed value of property in Eatonville, as projected by the county’s assessor-treasurer, is $499,249 for 2013. That would cause the town to receive $68,079 less in property tax revenue than it’s getting this year, according to town administration officials.

With the town’s budget and revenue sources already stretched thin, the town may have to eliminate paramedics from the Fire Department if the levy doesn’t pass, Harper said.

“We wouldn’t have (funding for) a 24-hour fire department. It’s not a threat, it’s reality. There’s nothing else to cut,” he said.

The rate of the levy can be as low as 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. But the tentative proposal is for $1, which would add – as an example – $100 in annual taxes to a $100,000 home.

The levy would be for one year. It would have to be renewed by voters in other elections for any additional years. A 60 percent yes vote is needed for approval.

Harper wants the levy to be dedicated solely to public safety, and have it stated that way in official ballot language. But at a meeting July 9, council members voted 3-1 to change the levy language to supporting general government services.

Layoffs and other cost-cutting measures have dotted the town’s budget for the past year as officials try to keep it balanced while meeting expenses.

One recent cut comes from the recent resignation of a police officer to take a job with the Centralia Police Department. Harper said the departing officer won’t be replaced, which will save Eatonville about $84,000 in salary and benefits. Eatonville now has four full-time officers, including the police chief, and two reserve officers.

Other recent savings are coming from Harper’s decision to not hire a new employee following the firing in May of the town clerk. By giving the clerk’s duties to other workrs at Town Hall, more than $23,000 in personnel costs will be saved, officials said.

Besides cuts in spending, town officials are exploring ways to increase revenue. In recent weeks, the council created a transportation improvement district that allows the town to add $20 to vehicle registration fees. The local fee, which the council hasn’t yet approved, would be earmarked for street maintenance.

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