The Sammamish City Council will hold two public hearings in November to gather community feedback on a prospective 2021-2022 budget, including a 2021 property tax increase.
The hearings, scheduled for Nov. 10 and Nov. 17, will provide Sammamish residents with the opportunity to voice their opinion on the City’s current draft of the $235.9 million budget proposal.
The budget plan includes proposals to add four full-time employees to City Hall’s legal, public works, and financial and risk departments, four additional law enforcement staff in contract with the King County Sheriff’s Office, and provide additional spending deemed necessary for the city’s emergency services.
The recommended tax levy would increase property taxes to provide an additional $2.4 million for city expenses. While a 1% property tax levy limit per year is standard practice in Washington state, Sammamish has opted to bank the past 11 years of property tax increases instead, Dave Rudat, Sammamish’s city manager, said at an Oct. 13 council meeting.
“I do not recommend that the City continue to (bank the funds), but rather provide a sustainable source of revenue to pay for the full cost necessary to deliver the high level of services, many of which are contracted, that the Council and Sammamish community has come to expect,” Rudat said.
If the levy is approved, Sammamish properties valued at $900,000 would face an approximate annual property tax increase of approximately $125, Rudat said.
Most of the city’s tax revenues come from property taxes, Rudat said at the Oct. 13 meeting. While the pandemic has not had a measurable impact on property taxes in Sammamish, a delay for recognizing new construction levies could come in the future as a result, he said.
Council members made slow progress in their discussion of the budget packet in the past month because of time constraints and the proposal’s scale in light of the COVID-19 pandemic — a significant ‘elephant in the room’ for all the city’s recent conversations, said Councilmember Jason Ritchie.
The direct purpose for some areas of the revamped budget remain unclear, he said. Ritchie hopes to further clarify those details as the Council’s talks continue.
Ritchie also questioned the timeliness of the tax levy proposal, noting that local school districts, King County and Washington state have not yet solidified their own budgets and potential levy needs.
The school districts, county and state may be forced to increase taxes because of harsher economic fallout experienced from the COVID-19 pandemic, Councilmember Pam Stuart said. Those levies could serve absolute community needs, but increasing Sammamish’s property tax at the same time could potentially impose an unnecessary strain on residents already paying higher taxes elsewhere, she said.
Stuart emphasized the Council’s need to make its decision on the budget in full consideration of the country’s ongoing COVID-19 economic crisis, including stalled stimulus talks in the U.S. Senate.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty,” she said. “There are all these things nationwide that are going to impact our economy here locally. And we don’t have the answers to those.”
Former Sammamish deputy mayor Ramiro Valderrama called in to an Oct. 20 council meeting with strong criticism for the council, budget and levy. The proposed budget does not reflect clear priorities that comprehensively benefit the Sammamish community, he said at the meeting.
“The budget is your policy,” Valderrama said in a later interview. “You can’t make head or tail of what their policy is.”
The upcoming public hearings to discuss the proposed budget and tax levy will take place during two virtual city council meetings which both start at 6:30 p.m. The council meetings are accessible via livestreams on the city’s website or YouTube. Sammamish residents can send written comments or call in to the session during the public hearing portion.