Gold Bar may get a choice: tax increase or no city

As the story goes, in 1889 a miner found traces of gold on a river gravel bar, set up a prospectors camp and called it Gold Bar.

Twenty-one years later this tiny townlet incorporated as a city of the same name. W.H. Croft was the first mayor of Gold Bar.

Joe Beavers may be the last.

That’s because Tuesday night, Beavers and the City Council intend to approve a pair of measures for the November ballot which will determine whether Gold Bar survives as a city next year.

One would increase property taxes to raise enough money to pay bills through 2013. The other would dissolve the 101-year-old city, making it an unincorporated community governed by Snohomish County.

How did it reach the point where Gold Bar is edging closer to municipal extinction than ever before?

Beavers blames politics, personalities and the price of public records requests. His critics likely view it as politics, personalities and the cost of cover-ups.

Either way, the ledger sheet shows that while there’s money for services, like water, sewer and roads, it is drying up at City Hall where they serve the people.

According to Beavers, the biggest reason Gold Bar is teetering on a fiscal cliff is the gobs of dough it shells out on lawsuits arising from requests for public records.

Serial requesters sue when they feel the city shortchanged them and the cost of defending itself is draining the city’s coffers, he said. This year’s tab may hit $90,000, roughly one-sixth of the city’s entire general fund, he predicted.

There’s hesitancy in Beavers’ voice when he talks about the problem as he sees it. He realizes his explanation makes it sound like he doesn’t want to abide by the state law requiring meaningful public access to government records. It’s not the law, he said, but those who use it aggressively to the point of bankrupting the town.

The numbers are the numbers, he said. Court room victories aren’t the answer.

So, Beavers went to Olympia this year to lobby state lawmakers for a measure of relief — and came back empty-handed.

So it’s down to this: Either the residents put up or the city of 2,100 closes up.

One of the ballot propositions in front of the council is a property tax increase of about $1 per $1,000 of assessed value, Beavers said. It would be in effect for one year and generate an estimated $113,000, he said.

The second would get the gears grinding on what would be the first disassembling of a city since the disincorporation of Westlake in Grant County in 1972, according to the Municipal Research and Services Center. The community is on I-90 near Moses Lake.

If voters pass both, the city will levy the tax and stay in business. If they reject both, bankruptcy may be the next option, he said.

And they may feel it’s time to end Gold Bar’s run as a city.

“That’s exactly the situation. Very clear choices,” the mayor said. “It’s something the citizens need to decide.”

The Gold Bar City Council will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall, 107 Fifth St.

Residents who want to help write the pro and con statements for the ballot measures should contact City Hall or email j.beavers@cityofgoldbar.us by 10 a.m. July 17.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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