A person turns in their ballot at a ballot box located near the Edmonds Library in Edmonds, Washington on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

A person turns in their ballot at a ballot box located near the Edmonds Library in Edmonds, Washington on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Everett approves measure for property tax increase to stave off deficit

If voters approve, the levy would raise the city’s slice of property taxes 44%, as “a retaining wall” against “further erosion of city services.”

EVERETT — If voters approve, Everett’s new property tax rate will be $2.19 for every $1,000 of assessed value — a 44% jump over the city’s current $1.52.

The percent increase applies only to taxes paid to the city of Everett, not taxpayers’ total bill.

The proposed lid lift, costing the average homeowner an extra $29 a month, is an effort to address the city’s budget deficit. City projections put next year’s shortfall at $12.6 million and show it growing to $35.4 million in 2030.

If voters OK the extra taxes, officials’ priorities will be public safety, reopening the Forest Park pool, adding a full-time Office of Neighborhoods position and supporting the library.

At the meeting, council members voted 6-1 to put the measure on the August ballot, with council member Judy Tuohy the only one opposed.

City leaders “need to look through the lens of all the families of Everett” when looking at the lid lift, Tuohy said, adding the tax will be passed on to renters.

Everett’s median household income was $77,806 in 2022, about 25% lower than the county median of $104,083, according to census data. This school year, 39% of students in the Everett school district are receiving free and reduced lunches, according to state data.

The cost of groceries, fuel and insurance have “skyrocketed,” Tuohy said. She noted the structural deficit is not new.

“It took us years to get here,” she said, “and it will take more than a one-time tax increase to get rid of the deficit.”

Council member Paula Rhyne said the city has cut all it can.

“Are there more expenses to be cut? Maybe,” she said. “We could not fill every pothole. We could not hire that extra police officer. We could not purchase those extra books for the library … But I don’t think our city should be like that.”

Even if city leaders can make more cuts, she argued, they wouldn’t be enough to address the deficits predicted for the coming years.

Rhyne sees the tax increase as “a retaining wall protecting against the further erosion of city services,” like park maintenance, infrastructure repairs and public safety, she said.

Former City Council member Scott Murphy, who has previously spoken out against the tax increase, again addressed the council to oppose it Wednesday.

The lid lift is “putting the cart before the horse,” he said, citing recent increases in departmental budgets.

In Murphy’s experience, city “revenue estimates always tend to be very conservative,” he said. He noted the city is also saving money from positions currently sitting vacant.

“I would just remind the council that Everett is not a wealthy community,” Murphy said, adding the lid lift would excacerbate rent increases and evictions.

Council member Mary Fosse said the city wouldn’t be able to cover “the sheer volume” of future budget shortfalls, even with more cuts.

While some “may not agree with every decision that’s been made, our population has increased,” she said, which means needing to spend more on staffing.

To council President Don Schwab, Everett is the “most amazing place in the state to live” with a historically “thriving industrial base.”

But the “problems that Everett has seen in the last few years have been incredible,” he said, mentioning drug trafficking. He added some of these issues “are from the outside,” reflective of a “global situation.”

Meanwhile, inflation is “absolutely astronomical,” he said, as the demand for city services has gone up.

Decisions about how to proceed are not only difficult for city leaders, but for residents, too, he said. The discussion at Wednesday’s council meeting was a reflection “of who we represent.”

The final decision will be “up to our neighbors,” Fosse said.

The property tax lid lift measure will be on the ballot Aug. 6.

Sophia Gates: 425-339-3035; sophia.gates@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @SophiaSGates.

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