Medina voters were split on a six-year levy increase that city officials say is needed to fill a municipal-budget deficit in Tuesday’s early election returns. Those in favor of the measure trailed those opposed by just four votes, with additional ballots to be counted on Wednesday.
Of 758 votes counted, 49.74% approved the property-tax measure, which could increase the city’s levy rate by 20 cents, to 84 cents per $1,000 of assessed value in 2020, and additional increases of 5% each year until 2025. The measure requires a simple majority to pass. There are 2,195 registered voters in Medina, which has a population of about 3,200.
The city that counts billionaires Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos as residents is projecting a $500,000 deficit in 2020, which Medina officials say could widen to $3.3 million by 2025 without a hike in property-tax revenue. Medina has an operating budget of $6.4 million and one of the lowest levy rates in the state, at 64 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The city will bring in about $2.8 million from property-tax income this year.
More than half of the city’s budget goes toward public-safety services, like the police department, lifeguards and municipal court. The city’s preliminary plan if the measure isn’t passed is to eliminate marine patrol, seasonal lifeguards and seasonal public-work employees. Other service changes include less frequent cleanings of city buildings, fewer staff-training sessions and no summer lawn watering.
Though the city has no shortage of mega-mansions, city officials are quick to point out that those pricey homes are outliers, and that the wealth of its residents doesn’t translate to the wealth of the government. The majority of Medina homes are valued at around $2 million. If the measure is approved, a Medina taxpayer who owns a $2 million home would pay $1,680 to the city in 2020, an increase of about $400 from what he or she paid to the city in 2019.
Opponents of the measure question the city’s past spending and say they are already taxed too much. With only 8% of annual property taxes going to Medina itself, the owner of a $2 million home also pays about $16,000 annually in taxes that go toward schools, King County, Sound Transit and other jurisdictions. One longtime resident called the proposed levy a “Hail Mary” to get more money from residents but not address irresponsible spending.
Under state law, cities can’t raise property-tax levies beyond 1% each year, unless the increase is approved by voters. The city is largely residential, so few retailers provide sales-tax revenue and the city has already increased its utility taxes to the maximum amount allowed. Its contingency plan is depleted, the city said. With just a 1% increase, the city would bring in an additional $28,000, which it says isn’t enough to cover rising costs.
The city will hold a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 12 to discuss the preliminary 2020 budget.