Yakima utility tax debate heating up; headed to City Council

YAKIMA, Wash. -- A tax debate is heading to city council. At issue is the city's utility tax. Councilmember Rick Ensey wants to reduce it. However, there's some disagreement on what losing that money would do to services in Yakima. KIMA got both sides.

Yakima City Councilmember Rick Ensey is not happy.

"I read the city manager's memo and frankly, it made me angry."

He's talking about the potential consequences raised by City Manager Tony O'Rourke if utility taxes are cut by two percent. Ensey's proposal would save you $2 a month or $24 for the year from your utility bill.

However, the memo says the general fund can't absorb the $800,000 loss in revenue from the tax cut without cutting city services and jobs. Two people would be out of work and eight vacant positions would be eliminated. The city's gang-free initiative consulting contract could also face reductions, among other things.

Ensey doesn't buy the numbers. He maintains the city has a million dollars set aside to offset the loss in revenue.

"I put forward that we use that money to refund two percent of the utility tax. And, the city manager and probably people in city council hijacked the idea. They're trying to turn this into I'm cutting things out of the budget. I'm not. I never asked for that. Ever."

But, the city manager says the million dollars Ensey's talking about has already been designated to pay off a bond for improving N. 1st Street and other projects.

"Maybe he had forgotten that," said O'Rourke.

His memo says instead of a tax cut, the city could re-direct $800,000 from the general fund to projects, like a new soccer complex.

Different ideas the council will try to resolve at its next meeting.

Any cuts to the budget from a drop in the utility tax would not hit the police or fire departments. A public hearing on the matter will likely be held before the end of September.