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City council approves utility, property tax hikes

Bremerton’s 2009 budget moving forward.

Bremerton City Council took a couple steps forward Wednesday night in the 2009 budget adoption process.

The nine city council members approved an increase on utility taxes for water, wastewater and stormwater utilities and unanimously approved a 1 percent property tax hike in the city of Bremerton.

At the start of the city council meeting, Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman told city council members “this is a time we need a steady hand on the wheel, not a knee- jerk reaction.” He added that he knows the 2009 budget is a difficult one to handle, but city council should approve it.

“I think it’s a good, solid budget,” Bozeman said.

The first ordinance passed by Bremerton City Council Wednesday increased utility taxes for water, wastewater and stormwater utilities from 8.5 percent to 9.5 percent.

Councilman Brad Gehring, along with other council members, reiterated that the increased utility taxes were not a direct tax on the residents of Bremerton. Gehring said it was taking money out of one pocket of the city and putting it into another.

“This is not a direct tax on the citizens,” said Bremerton Financial Services Director Laura Lyon.

Lyon said if the utility tax increase was not passed, the 2009 city budget would be short more than $250,000.

City council members approved the utility taxes increase 8-1, with Council Vice President Dianne Robinson voting no on the ordinance.

Council members then held a public hearing on revenue sources for the 2009 budget and increasing property taxes.

The increase in the property tax levy for 2009 is $58,811, which equals a 1 percent increase from 2008.

Lyon used the example of a home valued at $185,000. The homeowner paid roughly $351 in property taxes in 2008. If the home’s value remained at $185,000 in 2009, the homeowner would pay about $362 in property taxes, an $11 increase.

Lyon said that, on average, home values in Bremerton decreased by 1 percent, so the property tax would be different. She added that if homes’ values did decrease by 1 percent, homeowners would essentially see a 2 percent property tax hike in 2009.

“Individual homeowners will have different experiences,” Lyon said.

Councilman Mike Shepherd said the property tax increase is only the 1 percent allowed by state law and city officials were using good judgement in exercising the levy.

“This is the statutory 1 percent and we’re being very responsible,” he said.

The property tax levy passed unanimously, but Council President Will Maupin said the 1 percent increase may cause problems down the road.

“It really is only a 1 percent increase every year, and that’s a tough thing to live with,” he said. “We’re probably heading for a crash in this state one of these years, but we’ll deal with that when we get there.”

Bremerton City Council’s next council meeting is at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 19. The final public hearing regarding the 2009 budget is Wednesday, Dec. 3 and city council may adopt the budget that evening.

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