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Council pushes back vote to put utility tax increase on ballot

Paul Turner of Potelco performs maintenance on a utility pole for Puget Sound Energy. The Kirkland City Council pushed back a planned vote to put a measure on the November ballot to raise the utility tax from 6 to 7.5 percent.  - Matt Phelps, Kirkland Reporter
Paul Turner of Potelco performs maintenance on a utility pole for Puget Sound Energy. The Kirkland City Council pushed back a planned vote to put a measure on the November ballot to raise the utility tax from 6 to 7.5 percent.
— image credit: Matt Phelps, Kirkland Reporter

The Kirkland City Council pushed back a vote to put a proposed utility tax on the Nov. 3 ballot Tuesday.

During the meeting, the council discussed the issues surrounding the measure that would help fill budget gaps if passed and also took public comment.

Council members raised even more questions about the breakdown in how the tax would affect each resident. An impassioned statement from one resident called into question how the tax would affect low-income residents and the fact that the residents in the Proposed Annexation Area (PAA) will not get to vote on the issue. PAA neighborhoods include Kingsgate, North Juanita and Finn Hill and residents of those areas will get to vote on annexation.

Council member Bob Sternoff said of the utility tax: "I believe the county is considering this tax, too."

The tax would help to balance the city's budget as the tax is projected to bring in an estimated $2.24 million in 2010. The city began last year with a projected budget shortfall of $19 million for 2009-2010.

"Another reason why we considered the utility tax is that it is more directly variable by user," said Council member Dave Ahser.

But some wanted to know what would happen after the budget crisis.

"I empathize with the you trying to balance the city's budget," said Kirkland resident Bill Dunlap. "But I want to know, will we get this back when the economy picks back up?"

Dunlap also questioned using tax dollars to put a measure on the ballot that would likely fail. Since the measure will be on the general election ballot, the cost will be less than $5,000. The council had discussed a special election for the measure, which would have made it much more costly.

Most of the questions the council had were about how the tax would affect individual residents. The council will revisit draft resolution and potentially vote to put the measure on the ballot during their July 21 meeting.

The tax would raise rates on electricity, natural gas, telecommunications and cable TV from 6 percent to 7.5 percent. One of the reasons for this tax is that it is more sustainable and grows with inflation. The average household would see an increase of $6 a month and $72 a year. But the city emphasized that there is a huge range and it depends on individual usage.

Council member Jessica Greenway emphasized the difference from individual user to individual user, saying that her bills would go up twice the average.

The city has to file the resolution with King County by Aug. 11. The council also chose to keep the selection of residents to write the Pro and Con statements for the voter's guide open due to just two people signing up for the task. The council must select the committees to write each statement by Aug. 19.

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