For the first time since 1997, the Whatcom County Council has raised property taxes by 1 percent a year over the next two years.
The tax increase will occur in 2017 and 2018, the next years of the county’s biennial budget cycle.
The money will go to the county’s general fund, which pays for the everyday cost of running the county and providing services.
The County Council approved the increase last Tuesday by a vote of 5-2, with Barbara Brenner and Rud Browne voting against it.
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Brenner said the council shouldn’t be increasing property taxes now, adding that property owners will be affected as well as renters who will be paying for the tax increase passed along by their landlords.
Browne voted against it because, he said, it wasn’t clear what the additional dollars would be targeted toward, and the county may not need it if the Whatcom County levy for emergency medical services passes.
If the levy passes – it was squeaking by as of the last count of ballots on Wednesday – that will free up the $1.4 million from the Whatcom County general fund that went to pay for EMS services.
State law allows counties to increase overall property tax revenue by 1 percent each year.
The increase means the owner of a $300,000 home will pay $3 more over this year’s property tax.
It will add $285,313 to the county’s general fund next year.
County Council member Ken Mann proposed the property tax increase.
Not raising property taxes for the general fund since 1997 was an impressive feat, Mann said, before adding: “Frankly, I think that’s not very responsible.”
“We are subject to inflation just like everybody else,” he said. “Government costs money. Roads cost money. Jails cost money. Sheriff’s deputies cost money.”
Health insurance costs for employees have risen, county buildings such as the courthouse and the jail need repairs, and the county will have to spend money as it grapples with the state Supreme Court’s recent ruling on exempt wells, Mann said.
The county’s biennial budget, which the council also approved last Tuesday, includes money for nine new positions.