The Chehalis City Council convened Monday night for its regular meeting and a number of items were on the agenda, including a new contract with Harold LeMay Enterprises raising rates for garbage collection, a clarification on property taxes for 2023 and a Washington Department of Ecology water rights settlement revolving around water from the Newaukum River.
In addition, restoration efforts on water slides at the Shaw Aquatics Center were announced as complete, the parks department asked for a new permanent fence on the edge of one of the baseball fields at Recreation Park, downtown noise complaints were discussed and the property tax levy and preliminary budget for 2023 were given second public hearing sessions and subsequently approved by council.
The noise complaints discussed were brought up during the public comment session by Tim Filer, the owner of McFiler’s Chehalis Theater in downtown. He asked the council to amend the city’s noise ordinance to better clarify the rules as there have now been several occasions where police have been called over noise complaints at the theater, which reopened this year.
“The issue that I’m having is just there is a lot of subjectivity in the language of the ordinance. There’s no black-and-white numbers that I should be trying to fall under except for the actual time frame. There’s no concession for commercial space or the days that I would be potentially putting myself at risk for breaking the city’s noise ordinance, which is, as far as I know, 10 o’clock,” Filer said. “The last time the police showed up, which has been a number of times, he believed it was 11 o’clock but I’m sure it’s 10. I had a comedy show in there, and as far as I could tell, it was not unreasonably loud in any way. I think there was a couple of council members in attendance at that show who can attest to the volume of the interior of the place. Show gets over, I put on exit music for the crowd to mill out of the building. Again, not excessively loud. We could have a conversation there but it wasn’t obtuse. I walked out front to congratulate the comics and two officers from the City of Chehalis were there. I asked what the issue was and again it was the city (noise) ordinance.”
A general agreement among the council was reached that more clarification in the ordinance is needed and the issue would be revisited.
“I’m kind of shocked here, because this 10 o’clock thing, I ran movies for many years there, went until 12, movies got out at 12, and nobody ever said anything,” said Councilor Daryl Lund, a previous owner of the building.
Lund added that he had seen the decibel levels Filer was using currently and they were actually lower than the levels he used to play movies at.
LeMay Raising Rates Next Year
As the country continues experiencing inflation, many services have increased in price. However, Harold LeMay Enterprises Inc. hasn’t raised its garbage collection rates in Chehalis since 2017.
Originally, representatives from LeMay proposed a 30% rate increase starting in February 2023. That rate adjustment was rejected by the council and LeMay returned, proposing a 25% increase instead.
LeMay used consumer price index (CPI) increases in the Seattle and Tacoma area as well as the Olympia and Tumwater area over the past five years and CPI increase projections for the next two years to arrive at the 25% increase.
A LeMay official explained the increase was high because it hadn’t changed since 2017. Residents in other communities throughout Lewis County have annual rate increases from LeMay but Chehalis negotiated a five-year contract. That contract expired on Aug. 1.
For households having weekly collection of one regular sized garbage can at the curb, the cost will rise from $17.23 to $21.53 for weekly collection, while the mini-can collection fee will rise from $12.23 a week to $15.29. The 25% increase will apply to commercial collection services LeMay offers as well.
“We’ve gone five years with no rate increase and now we’re getting hit by it,” said Mayor Tony Ketchum.
A LeMay representative at the meeting said the same situation occurred in 2017 when a 15% increase was applied due to multiple years of inflation with no rate increases. Ultimately, the council voted to approve the contract with a 10% CPI cap for future increases as some concern was voiced by council member Jerry Lord about hyperinflation.
“The city is in negotiation with a lot of different unions for raises and if the unions wanted 12% because the inflation was 12% it would probably bankrupt the city. I’d say that it would probably hurt a lot of people too that aren’t getting that same 12% jack on their income. I’m OK with your 25% but I’d certainly like to see a cap at 8% or 10% so if it (the CPI) was going above that we’d get a chance to have our say in it,” Lord said.
LeMay was open to the amendment in negotiations; however, Chehalis City Attorney Erin Hillier stated LeMay could still reject the contract with the amendment’s addition.
“It may trigger a new round of negotiations if it’s not accepted by the other party’s contract but as far as approval by council tonight, that is sufficient,” Hillier said.
The vote was not unanimous though, as both council members Kate McDougall and Kevin Carns voted against it.
“I think inflation is rough on families. Gas, food, housing, everybody’s gotta pay these increases including us and including LeMay. It’s nothing personal but I think if they didn’t have CPI increase for five years, that’s a bit of a business failure, not a taxpayer failure,” Carns said.
McDougall added she wished there was more competition for trash collection services.
How The Property Tax Increase Works
With the approval of the 2023 property tax levy amount and budget, a question was posed by Chehalis resident Michael Holst about the increase in property taxes. H requested a change in the income limits for senior property taxes to help low income residents.
“The proposed increase of a 1% property tax increase hinders most senior citizens and low income residents. I, as well as others, also received notice of my (property’s) assessed value is to rise as much as 25% land and 28% improvements. This combination will raise my property taxes higher than my income will accommodate,” Holst stated in an email to the council.
Ketchum explained that the overall amount of property taxes collected was unfortunately well out of the city’s control. Lord added the city has no control on the amount of a break seniors could get on their properties.
“The other taxes you pay for are state tax, county tax, school tax, port tax, library tax, there’s probably another tax, and those we don’t get to control,” said Ketchum.
City Manager Jill Anderson helped further clarify the taxes.
“Property tax in Washington state is complicated. In a nutshell, the city is legally constrained on how much property tax it can collect. It’s prescribed by state law and every year, consistent with that state law, the city can choose to add 1% plus the needs for construction,” Anderson said.
She added the city then reports the total collected from that 1% to the Lewis County assessor who divides it out by the number of properties per $1,000 assessed value.
“If the (assessed value) in your house goes up, it doesn’t necessarily mean your total tax burden is gonna go up because this amount is spread out among all the houses,” said Anderson.
The actual amount of property taxes being collected had actually decreased overall on the city’s side from $1.79 per $1,000 in assessed value in 2022 to $1.56 per $1,000 in assessed value in 2023.
“We can’t control what the other six taxes are. They’re supposed to tax the same way we do but they may be able to tax as much as they want. That is where, when you get next year’s taxes, that’s where your tax increase is going to be,” Ketchum added.
Anderson invited residents who have more questions about this to reach out to her for more information. The city manager’s office number is 360-345-1042 and Anderson’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Newaukum River Water Rights Settlement
The City of Chehalis has been trying to negotiate new water rights with the Washington Department of Ecology to utilize more water from the Newaukum River since 2021. The Department of Ecology denied the city’s initial request because it believed the amount of water the city was asking for was too high. According to Tom McDonald, special legal counsel for the city, negotiations were started to reach a settlement.
“The agreement I think is quite good for the city,” McDonald said.
Currently, Chehalis is diverting just above 2,000 acre feet per year of water from the Newaukum. Under the settlement, the limit of water taken from the river will be 5,376 acre feet per year. The city wanted to get access to more water rights to help meet the needs of the city based on 2072 growth projections.
The new Newaukum water rights, combined with the existing Chehalis River and TransAlta mitigation bank water rights, will meet the needs projected through the next 50 years.
“At the end of 50 years, we can ask for extensions,” McDonald added.
“It’s a lot to soak in but the word is you’re happy with this and agree with this and want us to approve it,” Ketchum said.
The council approved the Department of Ecology’s proposed settlement. The new agreement will now go to the Pollution Control Hearings Board. Following that, the Department of Ecology will formalize the agreement with specified quantities and a development schedule.