Commission hears budget comment
Approval yet to come
December 8, 2022
Wahkiakum County commissioners this week took yet one more step toward setting budgets for 2023.
In public hearings Monday, citizens complained about increases in property taxes, and commissioners indicated they might not increase some tax levies.
Final action will come later this month.
By law, the commission can increase the county property tax collection 1 percent every year; a higher increase needs voter approval.
Commissioners adopted a resolution certifying levies for junior taxing districts, who, for the most part, claimed the 1 percent increase. However, they took no action on rates for the county's general fund, and in discussion with Assessor Bill Coons, they favored no increase.
"I'd say leave it as it is," said Commissioner Dan Cothren.
Commission Chair Gene Strong agreed.
"If you're good on revenues, leave them," Strong said.
Two citizens commented that property tax increases have become burdensome and threaten to drive people from their homes.
One unidentified woman commented that the taxes on her family's two parcels were increasing 28 and 29 percent.
"Is there anything we can do," she asked. "What meetings do we have to go to?"
Coons commented that assessments are based on market sales, which have been high.
Commissioners said it would take action by legislators to reform taxation.
"You have to raise the issue with local legislators, which we do," Strong said.
"I've been on that forever," Cothren said. "That structure has to be changed. The problem is--how you assess these things. It's based on sales."
Strong added that the board would notifiy interested citizens about opportunities to comment to legislators or on tax related bills.
In another comment, Clerk of the Board Beth Johnson said that as a resident of the county, she would like to see the board boost wages for law enforcement.
By contract, union employees, including law enforcement, will receive 2 percent wage increases. Salaries of elected officials are now based on that of superior court judges, which are set by the state; they would increase in a similar percentage as a judge. And for the first time in approximately 15 years; commissioner salaries will increase, first for Dist. 3 Commissioner Strong in 2023 and then for the District 1 and 2 commissioners in 2025.
"We'll take that under advisement," Strong replied to Johnson.
Commissioners also met Tuesday and accepted a grant to help cover the cost of erecting a bridge on the Elochoman Valley Road over Clear Creek.
The creek now passes under the road in a culvert that blocks passage of migrating fish. The county will replace the culvert with a 55-foot bridge.
During the commissioner comment period Tuesday, Cothren reported that the Cowlitz/Wahkiakum Conservation District board of commissioners plans to send a letter to state officials calling for change in management of elk herds. Conservation commissioners report observations that the elk population has declined dramatically, and Cothren said he agrees.
The decline is largely due to three factors, Cothren commented--elk herds have been decimated by the hoof rot disease; multiple hunting seasons put elk under pressure for several months, and poachers are also taking many animals.
"I've got to say that this was probably the worst hunting season I've ever seen," Cothren said. "The elk were so worn out.
"I've told (state department of) Fish and Wildlife that you can't have all the seasons they have."