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County Council might revise tax-approval proposal

Post by Steve Maynard / The News Tribune on May 22, 2012 at 3:37 pm with No Comments »
May 22, 2012 5:00 pm

A proposal to require any new Pierce County tax to be approved by voters could be revised tonight.

Pierce County Council members introduced two revised charter amendment proposals at a study session today. The council will meet at 6 tonight at Sprinker Recreation Center, 14824 C St. S., in Spanaway.

At least five council members must support a charter amendment proposal to send it to voters for the November ballot.

Council member Tim Farrell, D-Tacoma, proposed requiring a super-majority of council members – five votes – to approve any new tax or tax increase.

“It’s a simple way of doing it,” Farrell said. He favors this approach, his assistant said, because it would avoid the cost of having an election for voters to decide on a proposed tax increase.

Council member Roger Bush, R-Frederickson, revised his original proposal, which called for voters to approve any new tax.

His amendment requires an advisory ballot to go to voters before the council can levy any new tax or tax increase. His proposal excludes the renewal of the property tax levy.

Bush said he proposed the amendment because of a legal concern about taxes the Legislature gives the council the authority to impose. If the council forwards decisions for those taxes to voters, it could in the view of some be opening itself up to a legal challenge, Bush said.

Bush said he could also support Farrell’s proposal for the council super-majority, if it was changed to apply to taxes – not just new taxes.

“I think both of them are strong in the sense they engage a more prudent approach,” Bush said. “Both of them take recognition of voters’ concerns… and the economic environment people find themselves in.”

The council discussed the amendments a week after county officials warned that Bush’s original proposal could cause financial uncertainly, leading to higher borrowing costs, and make the county vulnerable to a lawsuit.

At that meeting, the council met in closed, executive session to discuss the potential threat of a lawsuit if Bush’s proposal became law.

Tuesday’s study session turned tense when council member Rick Talbert, D-Tacoma, asked to delay tonight’s vote on some proposal. Talbert said he wants more time for himself and the public to review the issues.

Bush said he wants the council to take a final vote tonight, giving voters more time to study the issue.

“I’m ready to vote today on some proposal,” Bush said.

Talbert objected.

“Give me a compelling reason why it has to be acted on tonight,” Talbert asked. “Why can’t it wait a week? … Why won’t you allow me the courtesy of having an opportunity to look at this?”

Council member Dick Muri, R-Steilacoom, suggested the council wait a week or two for a final vote but still allow the public to discuss the issue tonight.

Bush said people probably will go to tonight’s meeting to address the issue. “We’ve made it a practice when we have an issue to bring it out and have that opportunity to address and give public testimony,” Bush said.

“I have no problem with it being heard,” Talbert said.

Council members have until Aug. 7 to decide to put a charter amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot.

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