Voters give their approval to area levies

By Karen Larsen
Empire Press Correspondent

During the Feb. 13 special election, voters gave their approval for the Hospital District 2 (Waterville Clinic and Waterville Ambulance) levy as well as levies for the Waterville, Orondo and Palisades school districts.

The Hospital District levy passed at a rate of 80.55 percent; the Orondo School District levy passed at a rate of 57.61 percent; the Palisades School District levy passed at a rate of 79.66 percent; and the Waterville School District levy passed at a rate of 70.11 percent. Voter turnout for the election was at 45.29 percent.

Katie Shafer, Hospital District 2 Commissioner 3, said Feb. 16 that the commissioners were very happy to see the support that the levy received.

“We were ecstatic and thrilled,” Shafer said. “We feel very, very blessed that it passed.”

The Hospital District typically runs the levy on the November ballot to provide funds for the following year. However, the measure did not get on the ballot last November. This will make funds somewhat tight in 2018 but, according to Shafer, the commissioners have budgeted for this and are confident that the district will have the funds it needs to get through the year.

Shafer added that a number of maintenance issues came up in 2017 and those were addressed, so the commissioners aren’t expecting much maintenance expenditure during 2018. The $70,000 in funds made available for 2019 by the levy passage will enable the district to once again invest in upkeep of the clinic building, grounds and the ambulance.

The levy requires collection of approximately $0.36 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The Waterville School District levy will collect $1.50 per $1,000 assessed property value in 2019. This is the levy cap imposed by the state Legislature as part of the solution to fully fund public education in compliance with McCleary v. Washington.

At $298,300, the amount to be collected is significantly less than the $800,000 being collected in 2018. School districts are waiting for decisions from the Legislature on school funding and on the levy cap to see how their programs will be impacted by the change.

Waterville School District Superintendent Cathi Nelson wrote in an email Feb. 18 that the high rate of voter approval for the Waterville levy shows the importance of the school’s work to the community.

“We continue to be so grateful for that continued support,” Nelson wrote.

She added that the result is bittersweet because of the state levy cap and the dramatic reduction in funds that it represents.

Nelson wrote that in community meetings many people expressed frustration that the decision of how high the levy can be is being made at the state level.

“The reality is that HB 2242 is the law, and we are trying to figure out how to adjust to it and still maintain the facilities, programs and support we provide at Waterville School,” Nelson wrote.

According to Nelson, a decision on how the levy cap issue will be addressed should come after the end of the special legislative session March 8. However, solutions still on the table do not look like they are going to provide much relief.

Ismael Vivanco, superintendent of the Palisades and Orondo school districts, said he was very happy about the passage of levies in those districts.

The Orondo levy ran at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value, whereas the Palisades levy ran at $2.54 per $1,000, which is the full amount of expected expenditures for 2019. If the Legislature does not choose to adjust the current law, the district will only be able to collect the $1.50 per $1,000 assessed value.