Sammamish City Council members passed a two-year budget and 6% property tax levy during a Nov. 24 meeting after months of slow deliberation on how to navigate the City’s finances through the current COVID-19 pandemic.
With the approved 6% levy, owners of a $900,000 house in Sammamish will be expected to pay $77 more in 2021 property taxes.
Although City Manager Dave Rudat’s recommendation to balance the budget was to apply all of the banked property tax increases of this year plus the past 11 years — a total of 12% — the Council chose to apply half that amount.
The revised budget that the Council passed also included $6 million in program cuts to close the budget shortfall.
The votes to pass the budget and levy both split 4-2 among the Council’s majority and minority members, as council members debated the timeliness of a decision that will slightly increase the City’s demands of taxpayers in the midst of an economic crisis.
Council majority members — except for Mayor Karen Moran, who was not present for the budget or levy votes — opted for the 6% property tax increase. Moran was temporarily unavailable, saying she was relocating from City Hall to her home at the time of the vote.
As new information about COVID-19 trickles in during the next few months, the Council will be better poised to resolve those needs in a year although taking half of the banked capacity will delay funding for other city projects in the meantime, said Deputy Mayor Christie Malchow.
“It’s kicking the can down a road a little bit on some of these projects,” Malchow said. “We’ve done some cuts and that’s okay.”
“This is an in-between step,” said Councilmember Ken Gamblin, noting that public feedback revealed divisions among the community with people for and against the property tax increase. “We’re trying to give a nod to everyone.”
Councilmember Pam Stuart disagreed, and voted against the property tax increase.
“I think this is the worst year ever for us to not just start but to be adding on the banked capacity,” she said. “Again, we are sailing into a headwind of economic uncertainty.”
Washington state will be grappling with a $2 to 4 billion shortfall for at least the next four years because of COVID-19, and many of Sammamish’s surviving small businesses might not make it to the next year, Stuart said. She advocated for not raising taxes, and instead tapping into the city’s rainy day fund, which has millions of dollars worth of interest accumulated from revenue surpluses of the past five years.
“If this isn’t the rainy day we’ve been waiting for, I don’t know what rainy day we are waiting for,” she said. “We are not the ‘Bank of Sammamish’.”