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Citizens group supports tax increase for city

A citizen's group is asking residents to "Say Yes for Langley" on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The group of citizens formed in August to support the property tax levy proposition that would increase revenues for the city's general fund. That fund pays for general government services such as police, parks and city hall.

"It's time consuming and takes a lot of energy to run an initiative like this," said group chairman Paul Samuelson. "But working in the community educating the public has been a real positive experience."

The proposition on next week's ballot would increase the overall property tax rate by about $0.78 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The tax rate for 2005 was $1.0451 and if the levy passes, in 2006 the rate will be $1.83.

If the levy is passed, it will cost the owner of a $300,000 home an additional $235 a year.

Supporters say the increase is needed to maintain city services. Langley's budget has already been cut to the bone because of declining revenues in recent years, and officials say services will suffer even more if the levy isn't approved.

Right now, Island County has the second lowest average tax rate in the state and Langley's tax rate is below the county average.

The property tax levy was proposed after the city of Langley explored different options to improve the city's finances.

A budget committee formed by Langley city officials found that an increase in property taxes was the most plausible way to address the lack of funds.

"I think that they've done a lot of work examining how their money is spent, both internally and externally, so they have a foundation of what needs to be done," Samuelson said.

Langley has already tightened its budget belt. Earlier this year, in order to keep some of funding in Langley's emergency reserves, the mayor decided to forgo his salary for the year and the city council decided to make some additional one-time-only cuts.

Reductions were made in parks, city facility maintenance, the police car reserve fund and computer upkeep and repair efforts.

"There has been a lot of things put aside as the economics have dwindled," said Samuelson.

The city council made it a budget priority last July to restore Langley's operating reserve.

"Having no cash reserves is not a good idea. So that will be part of where the money goes," Samuelson said.

"You can see what happened in New Orleans, you can see what happened in Florida," he said. "If you have a situation where something has occurred that you didn't anticipate that suddenly needs attention, those are the most current and glaring examples of what you need reserves for."

Improving street maintenance and providing proper upkeep of parks and public spaces are also city council budget priorities.

In addition to the levy, non-tax options have been considered in looking for ways to improve the city's financial situation.

Langley has begun developing a program for volunteers, and looking for other money-making services, such as taking passport applications, as well as ways to help the retail economy.

"I think there's a lot of different ideas. And the community and the city will work together to find create and implement those ideas," Samuelson said.

The budget committee wants the city to keep pursuing these options. But those ideas alone won't solve the city's financial crisis.

So far, Langley's tax increase has found plenty of boosters.

The group "Say Yes for Langley" took the tax initiative as an opportunity to help the people of Langley strengthen their relationship with city government.

"I've seen people get excited to learn more about the city, where their money goes, and how it's spent," Samuelson said. "We have a wonderful opportunity to see our money at work right before our eyes."

Samuelson, however, realizes that raising taxes is not always the most popular thing to do.

"Tax initiatives are difficult at best," he said. "It's certainly not a sure thing at this point."

The most important thing, Samuelson said, is for his fellow Langley residents to go to the polls.

"I'm certainly hoping that people really get out and vote and have their voice be heard," he said.

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