Sultan mayor: Increasing taxes does not ‘help get the economy back on track’

Dec 17, 2021, 2:19 PM
Snow in Sultan, Washington. (File photo courtesy of City of Sultan, Washington - Government/Facebook)
(File photo courtesy of City of Sultan, Washington - Government/Facebook)

Snohomish County Council, in a vote that was completely along party lines, passed a sales tax to fund services for affordable housing that will end up helping the homeless population.

Councilmember: Snohomish County sales tax increase getting ‘rushed with minimal transparency’

KTTH’s Jason Rantz says the council passed this without any meaningful community support. A group of local lawmakers called that out before the vote, saying that the voters should get to decide.

Russell Wiita, the mayor of Sultan, is part of that group.

“I joined 57 other local elected officials in the letter asking for the affordable housing sales tax increase to be put to voters,” Wiita told the Jason Rantz Show. “Mostly because, right now, responding to the pandemic, and business is struggling, we didn’t really think it was a time for the county council — in just a two-week, quick process — to impose this.”

Wiita said a tax increase like this would historically have had to go to the voters, however, the legislature recently passed a bill that allows either a county or city council to enact this without going to voters.

“We’re not necessarily arguing the merits of affordable housing or behavioral health, those are issues affecting all our communities, but it was to make the case to the voters that are going to have to pay this,” the mayor said.

Wiita noted that the increased sales tax will impact most purchases people make.

“I think voters are going to question why,” he said. “Why didn’t we learn more about this before it happened? And for some, not necessarily Sultan, but some cities in our county are going to have the highest sales tax on the West Coast because of this.”

Lynnwood is near the top of the list, he said, if not the top, and there are a few others in southwest Snohomish County that would be near the top.

Wiita also notes that this tax is coming at a bad time, as the economy is still trying to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We recognize that, at the local level, when we passed our budget this year for the city of Sultan, we did not increase the property tax the 1% that we were allowed. It’s the second year in a row that we haven’t taken that, recognizing that people are struggling right now,” Wiita said. “And increasing taxes is not the thing to do to help get the economy back on track.”

Small town Washington mayor rides long-legged bird to charity success

Moving forward, Wiita says he hopes people pay attention to future ballots and notice that these decisions are being made by leaders they are electing.

“What we’ve seen a lot of times is voters that say they don’t want tax increases in just about every advisory vote that comes to the ballot,” he said, but those are non-binding and mostly serve to show where public opinion lies.

“But they turn around and elect the same people that impose those taxes,” Wiita continued. “… I don’t have a lot of confidence that voters are going to make a change, but I hope they do.”

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3 – 6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Sultan mayor: Increasing taxes does not ‘help get the economy back on track’