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A primer on how Washington State tax codes work was presented to a group of Vancouver neighbors courtesy of Clark County League of Women Voters and the Vancouver Neighborhood Alliance.

Olympia-based author Steve Lundin, who spent 30 years as an advisor to the Washington State House of Representative, discussed state, county, and city tax revenues during a recent public meeting at Vancouver Police Department’s East Precinct. Lundin is the author of a reference guide to local government in Washington State called “The Closest Governments to the People.”

During his talk Lundin revealed just how tangled a web the state’s taxation system has become, particularly in terms of property taxes. He said that because state law puts a 101 percent “levy lid” on property taxes imposed in a given year, multiple taxing districts essentially compete for a limited amount of funds.

Neighborhood Advisors Mary Elkin and Kathy Huss volunteer to make neighborhoods a great place to live.

More senior districts, like counties and cities, take precedence over “junior” districts, such as fire, metro parks, and libraries. “There is a limit on the aggregate, the sum total among property taxes that can be imposed,” he said. “If there is too many of these governments overlapping each other, and too many are asking for it, the most junior ones lose out.”

Lund said most cities in Washington collect their taxes from three streams: regular property taxes, sales and use taxes, and business license fees. Other, more minor taxes at their disposal include those on admissions, gambling, and hotel/motel rental charges.

Whatever mix of taxes cities use, Lundin said they typically impose as much tax as possible. “They take as much property tax as they can,” he said. “Most cities impose sales and use taxes at the maximum rates. Most cities impose utility taxes at max rates.”

Lundin said he was shocked to discover that Vancouver doesn’t have a Business and Occupation (B&O) tax, which often makes up a third of the budgets of other Washington cities. The state imposes a B&O tax on the gross amount of revenue businesses receive, but Vancouver ended its version of the tax in 2002.

The event was one example of the kind of challenging but relevant topics the Vancouver Neighborhood Alliance (VNA) explores during its monthly meetings. The VNA represents 64 different neighborhood groups in Vancouver.

In recent months, the VNA has brought in guests to discuss issues like medical marijuana, gang activity, school levies, and the state of the city’s police and fire departments.

VNA Secretary Mary Elkin has seen the impact of city budget cuts in the Image Neighborhood, where she resides. She was one of several neighbors who called on the city to accept a $2.3 million federal SAFER grant in August to reopen Fire Station 6 after closing it eight months earlier.

She said being informed about taxes and other issues of concern to neighbors will help them be more proactive and less reactionary.

“If we work together, we can bring a wealth of brain power to bear within the city to make it a better place to live,” said Kathy Huss, VNA vice chairman. “You don’t have to move somewhere else to have a good neighborhood. It’s our job as neighborhood leaders to make our city and our individual neighborhoods a great place to live.”

The Vancouver Neighborhood Alliance meets tonight at 7:00 p.m.

East Police Precinct
520 SE 155th Ave.
Vancouver WA 98684

PDF: Agenda for March 14, 2012 meeting.

The Alliance is an independent advisory body of Vancouver neighborhoods and works with the City of Vancouver and the Office of Neighborhoods, to preserve and support the City’s neighborhood associations. Each City of Vancouver neighborhood association, active or inactive, may become a member of The Alliance. Meetings held the second Wednesday of each month, starting at 7:00 pm.

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