Kennewick council members hesitatingly approved Tuesday a slightly lower property tax levy for 2012.
The new rate of $2.11 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, which is about a nickel less than this year, includes a 1 percent increase in the amount the city can collect. State law allows the city to add 1 percent to its levy base each year.
But several council members said the 1 percent increase -- about $105,000 -- comes at a bad time for taxpayers.
Councilman Bob Parks said not collecting the additional 1 percent would bring the levy rate down another two cents to $2.09.
Dan Legard, Kennewick's finance manager, said state law allows the city to not raise its levy base by 1 percent, but to bank it for the future.
But City Manager Marie Mosley said not enacting the extra levy amount would leave the general fund budget short $105,000 next year.
"Taking the 1 percent brings money into the general fund to pay for programs," she said. The biennium budget was built with the assumption that the city council would approve annual 1 percent increases to the levy base, she added.
Parks and Councilman Don Britain said they would approve the levy, but want future budget decisions not to assume a 1 percent increase.
"I look at this as a cost of living increase to pay for what's on the other side of the city's ledger," said Councilman Paul Parish. He noted that city employees who belong to unions receive an annual 3.5 percent salary increase, "which is almost automatic."
Mayor Steve Young told the council if they want to stop taking the 1 percent annual increase to the base levy, there will be hard decisions to make.
Legard said Initiative 397 approved in 2001 took away the option for annual 6 percent increases to the levy base, replacing it with the 1 percent amount.
Mosley said Kennewick has taken the 1 percent addition every year since then, and it always has been one of the assumptions in preparing the budget.
The 2012 levy of $2.11 per $1,000 will cost the owner of a $150,000 home about $317. That does not include another $12 for the library bond levy. Overall, the city's levy next year will be about $7 less than this year for the owner of a $150,000 home.
The 2012 levy will bring in just under $11 million to the city, Mosley said.
-- John Trumbo: 582-1529; email@example.com