Bellevue City Council approves 1 percent property tax increase

Funds will help replenish reserves, support police and fire

The Bellevue City Council approved a 1 percent property tax increase Monday.

The increase will be in effect for 2018 to generate approximately $563,000.

The money will help replenish the city’s reserves, which will fall to 12 percent in 2023 after Fire Station 10 opens in 2022 and health care costs continue to rise, depleting the Law Enforcement Officers and Fire Fighters Plan 1 (LEOFF 1) medical reserve and forcing it to shift to the general fund in 2019. The city usually maintains the financial reserve at 15 percent. A sales tax annexation tax credit will expire in 2022 and the city expects personnel costs to continue to rise.

Most of the council supported the increase with a 6-1 vote on Ordinance No. 6388.

Mayor John Stokes called it a more prudent route to fiscal responsibility to protect and serve the public, as reserves act as a “savings account” and “rainy day fund” the city will need to be prepared.

Councilmember Jennifer Robertson said she first ran for council with the mindset that raising taxes was a bad idea because, at the time, the economy and people were suffering. Yet, the millage rate would go down for taxpayers even with the increase.

“I would much rather do a little bit each year if needed than have a big dip in the bank capacity and hit people with a bigger increase later,” Robertson said.

A sentiment Councilmember Ernie Simas and Deputy Mayor John Chelminiak agreed with as well.

But Councilmember Conrad Lee, who called himself a fiscal hawk, disagreed.

“I support the general reserve concept but not in the tax increase and not now,” he said.

Lee questioned where the money was going and said the region-wide increase of taxes and levies would add up for taxpayers.

“It adds up, it adds up and eventually there will be a straw that breaks the camel’s back unless we say, ‘No’ and be more insistent,” he said.

The property tax increase came during the city’s mid-biennium budget update. In total, the amendment to the 2017-18 biennium budget was $8.4 million resulting in a total $1.6 billion 2017-18 mid-biennium budget.

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