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County Council sends measure to voters requiring “supermajority” approval for new taxes

Post by Steve Maynard / The News Tribune on May 29, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
May 29, 2012 7:54 pm

The Pierce County Council sent to voters today a charter amendment proposal requiring any new county tax to be approved by a “supermajority” of five council members.

The council voted 5 to 2 to put the measure on the Nov. 6 ballot. Council members Rick Talbert and Tim Farrell, both Tacoma Democrats, voted “no.”

The council altered the amendment to include two taxes it currently could impose but has not: sales tax increases for public safety and for mental health and chemical dependency services.

Last week, the elected leaders revised council member Roger Bush’s proposal that required any new county tax to be approved by voters. It approved an amendment from Farrell, shifting the proposed authority for approving new taxes from voters to a “supermajority” of the council.

Farrell cited then the potential for a lawsuit if the council referred to voters a new tax that the state gave the council authority to adopt.

His revision came about after county officials warned at a study session May 15 that Bush’s original proposal could cause financial uncertainty, leading to higher borrowing costs, and make the county vulnerable to a lawsuit.

But after the council amended his proposal, Farrell said he couldn’t support the final version. He said allowing four – not five — council members to have the authority to add a 1/10 of one percent increase in the sales tax for mental health services “is a real sticking point for me.”

The charter amendment would require five of seven council members to approve any new county tax.

A simple majority of voters is required to adopt the amendment. It will not increase the county’s election costs because there are a number of county positions already on the ballot.

If approved by voters, the amendment would take effect Jan. 2, 2013, and apply to any taxing authority given to the council after that time.

According the amendment from council member Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake, a new tax would not include the council’s authority to increase property taxes 1 percent a year, which it has done. But his amendment also defined a new tax to include the public safety and mental health taxes. They would all require approval from five council members to be adopted, if voters approve the charter amendment.

Bush, R-Frederickson, has acknowledged the council hasn’t approved new taxes during his seven years on the council. And when a new tax was proposed – last fall’s South Sound 911 tax – the council sent it to voters, who approved it.

But with state and federal budget cuts bound to continue, pressure will build for counties to maintain and add services, and add more taxes to pay for them, Bush has said.

Farrell and Talbert have proposed asking voters to elect a charter review commission in 2013, two years earlier than required by law. The council is expected to decide on that proposal June 12.

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