The Olympia City Council has approved a 1 percent increase in property taxes for 2016.
The council unanimously passed the resolution Tuesday ahead of discussions about the city’s proposed 2016 operating budget, which was drafted with the higher property tax money in mind. The resolution is expected to generate an extra $101,523.
Councilman Jim Cooper, who serves on the city’s finance committee, said Olympia has lost money on property taxes when accounting for inflation. One percent is the maximum increase allowed without voter approval.
“It’s an important step to the city, but not one the council takes lightly,” he said.
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The final budget is slated for adoption Dec. 15.
The proposed 2016 budget is about $128.7 million and also includes higher utility rates.
Customers can expect increases of 7.3 percent for drinking water, 2 percent for waste water, and 3 percent for LOTT Clean Water Alliance. Waste Resources will raise the rates by 5.5 percent for residential customers, 4 percent for commercial customers, and 9 percent for organics and yard waste collection.
At a public hearing Tuesday, some business owners and residents spoke in favor of adding extra funding for the Downtown Ambassador Program. The ambassadors are based at the Downtown Welcome Center and help visitors, the business community and the homeless. The program includes the Clean Team, which removes litter and graffiti downtown.
The program’s operating budget is just under $200,000. Program manager Sharon Holley is proposing a plan for eight temporary positions for at-risk street youths ages 18-25. The idea is to create opportunities for these street youths to improve their lives, she said.
“It’s an expansion of our program,” Holley told the council, noting that at one time “I was one of those kids.”
Karen Olsen, owner of Radiance Herbs and Massage, said the ambassadors and Clean Team are a huge help for her business. She echoed the sentiments of other business owners who praised the program for its outreach and for creating a more positive downtown atmosphere by picking up feces in alleyways, for example, or helping a homeless person who is experiencing a crisis.
“I love the idea of them expanding,” Olsen told the council.