It’s official. If you live within the Snoqualmie City limits, you will be voting on November 6th whether or not to raise property taxes so the city can maintain public safety levels and keep up with street, park and trail maintenance.
The City of Snoqualmie City Council voted unanimously at its July 23rd meeting to put an operations levy on the November ballot to help maintain the current levels of police, fire, and emergency medical services, as well as preserve basic maintenance of city streets, parks, and trails. The city says doing work now will avoid more costly improvements later.
The city says it’s done a lot of belt-tightening over the years, including cutting replacement equipment for the fire, public works and parks departments; eliminating management cost-of-living increases; a hiring freeze on new positions; and savings in health and insurance costs.
Even so, city reps say since 2001, the costs for basic city services have increased by more than 4%, yet the city has only increased property taxes by a maximum of 1% annually due to state law. The city can only keep up with their cost increases and raise property taxes by more than the state-mandated 1% if voters approve a levy measure for public safety and maintenance.
“Residents have told us they are happy with the levels of service in Snoqualmie for police, fire, parks, and streets,” said Council Member Maria Henriksen. “To maintain those levels, we need this levy in place. This is an opportunity to give voters a chance to confirm that this is the level of service they want us to maintain.”
Levy funds would help city police and fire forces maintain fast response times. Last year, they responded to more than 7,000 calls in an average time of 4-6 minutes. Additionally, one full-time fire fighter would be hired; the Fire Department hasn’t added any new fire fighters in the last decade.
The levy increase would allow Police and Fire Departments to maintain safety and emergency response training to meet current safety standards. This levy increase would ensure ongoing maintenance and safe operations of emergency vehicles and police and fire stations and emergency dispatch centers. Snoqualmie’s increased population and incidents have increased the city’s day-to-day operations and maintenance costs.
If voters pass the levy proposition, officials say it would help Snoqualmie start addressing deteriorating neighborhood and city streets so that more costly repairs aren’t needed in the future. It would also allow repairs to be coordinated with water and sewer improvements to minimize disruption and save money.
The levy would provide funds so that parks and recreation facilities continue meeting safety standards and community expectations. Those include basic services such as maintaining picnic areas, clean restrooms, trash removal, lawn mowing and weed control. The measure would also provide funds for trail and natural area preservation.
“We need this measure to maintain the quality of public safety, parks and streets in Snoqualmie, preserving what makes this community special,” said Mayor Matt Larson.
The levy cost would equal $0.24 per $1,000 of assessed property value. For the average $413,000 Snoqualmie home, the tax increase equals $8 per month. For a $200,000 home, the increase would be about $4 per month.
In March, the city hired EMC Research and Northwest Public Affairs to telephone survey residents and explore whether to pursue the levy. The results showed satisfaction with the current level of city services and a desire to maintain that level. To see survey results click HERE.
Some Snoqualmie residents are concerned that the city is asking for this tax increase at a time when they are considering making a land parcel tax exempt for an Imagine Housing affordable apartment housing complex near the Snoqualmie Eagle Point neighborhood.
Councilwoman Maria Henriksen said “the Imagine Housing Agenda Bill which requested a tax exemption for the project is no longer under consideration by the City Council at this time. The project has gone back for further development and all of the feedback received from our citizens is being considered.” Officials estimate the “further developed” housing project plans won’t come back to the city council until next year.
The Mixed Use Agreement for Snoqualmie Ridge Division II requires both for sale and rental affordable housing opportunities. The rental requirement for division II has not yet been met. City leaders believe affordable housing is consistent with community values.
According to officials, the city does not control which affordable housing developer will be chosen by the property owner to occupy the designated land. The city does have control over possible tax exemption requests proposed by the affordable housing developer, but it is not guaranteed those requests will be granted city council approval.