Gold Bar seeks tax to fight off legal challenges

GOLD BAR — This mountain town with origins as a prospectors’ camp is a bit short on its namesake riches these days.

To shore up city finances, elected leaders are asking voters to support a property-tax levy on Nov. 6.

They say Gold Bar urgently needs the infusion of tax dollars because of an onslaught of public-records lawsuits.

The levy would cover the estimated $100,000 in legal bills the city expects to pay this year to defend itself.

“We’re short that much money,” Gold Bar Mayor Joe Beavers said. “(W)e need that money to pay litigation costs in 2013. We have no other source of funds to cover that.”

The city’s yearly budget is about $600,000.

If passed, the ballot measure would raise property taxes by $1 per $1,000 in assessed value in 2013. The bill for a house assessed at the city average of $134,000 would go up by $134 as a result.

That would give Gold Bar an estimated $113,000 for legal bills. The extra amount would only be collected in 2013.

The City Council in July also considered, but ultimately rejected, a more drastic option of dissolving the city as a legal entity. If that had happened, Gold Bar would have reverted back into an unincorporated part of Snohomish County.

The levy requires a super majority of 60 percent to pass, county elections supervisor Wendy Mauch said. Also, a minimum of 190 voters need to participate, a figure based on 40 percent of the people who voted in the last city election.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported Gold Bar’s 2010 population at 2,075.

Steve Bush, who has lived in Gold Bar for just over a decade, signed up to co-write the voters-pamphlet statement urging voters to support the levy.

“The city is operating within its budget,” Bush said. “It’s in the black, except for the litigation costs” due to the public records lawsuits.

Bush and others also want to encourage state lawmakers next year to set up an administrative process for resolving public records disputes as a cheaper alternative to the courts.

Nobody signed up to write an official statement urging voters to turn down the city’s request.

Two of the people seeking access to the city’s records are attorney Anne Block and Joan Amenn, who run the political blog www.goldbarreporter.org.

Block and Amenn oppose the levy and last week filed a related complaint with the state elections watchdog.

The Public Disclosure Commission complaint accuses the city of improperly using city resources to support the levy. The complaint specifically lists work by the law firm hired by the city, as well as city computers, stationary and employee staff time.

Beavers said that not only is the city attorney allowed to work on preparing the ballot proposition, they are required to do so under county elections rules. Beavers also noted that the PDC dismissed a complaint that Block filed against him in the spring because they found no evidence of wrongdoing.

The PDC is unlikely to make a decision about whether it will formally investigate Block’s latest complaint until later this month, spokeswoman Lori Anderson said.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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