Woodland-area residents Tuesday rejected a permanent property tax increase to hire and equip three more officers, and Mayor Will Finn says that will necessitate “difficult conversations” about how much service the department will be able to provide.
Voters also gave Karl Chapman another four-year term on the Woodland City Council and roundly rejected a proposal to create a rural library district. And they retained Robert Wile as commissioner at the Port of Woodland.
But the race for City Council position 5 appeared destined for a photo finish: Scott Peabody led DeeAnna Holland by only 15 votes (398-383) Wednesday night. Ballot counting will continue through the week.
Reached by phone, Peabody said he was disappointed by the low initial voter turnout, but he remained cautiously optimistic.
“I feel pretty confident that we’re gonna win this thing, but you just never know,” he said.
Holland joked that she still has two ballots coming: One in the mail from her dad and another from her oldest son, who dropped his ballot off Tuesday.
Woodland Levy Lid Lift
Woodland’s levy lid lift to fund three new police positions needed a 60% supermajority to pass. It attained only 49% of the vote (426 yes to 448 no votes across Clark and Cowlitz counties.)
Woodland Mayor Will Finn, a major proponent of the proposition, said he is “extremely disappointed” with the initial results and the voter turnout (Roughly 21% of eligible voters had cast a ballot for or against the lid lift in initial returns.)
But “I have to say I couldn’t be more proud of our police department union guild” in their work appealing to voters, Finn said.
“They surpassed the expectations ... to do this work to inform the community. So when I say I’m disappointed ... I’m more disappointed for them. I really wanted this for them, for our community.”
He said the city’s police force is still in “dire need” of funding, and the city will need to have “some difficult conversations” about what level of service the department will be able to provide.
“Right now, we do a 24-hour coverage of the city with law enforcement,” Finn said. “We may have to revisit it now. I’m not saying that to scare the citizens, or punish them in any way, but we can’t continue to sustain the level of service that we have.”
Proponents of the lid lift, who included the city council, Finn and members of the police force, pointed out that Woodland Police have not added a new officer position since 2007, despite a doubling of calls for service in that time.
Opponents questioned the levy’s price tag. The 63 cents per $1,000 tax would have raised roughly $600,000 annually for the next five years. Woodland City Planning Commissioner Kim Blaufuss said she supports the department but suggested officials come back with a more modest request.
Port of Woodland Commissioner
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Wile easily defeated challenger JJ Burke, collecting 57% of the vote and led 829-610.
Wile said he isn’t surprised by the results and that he was looking forward to continuing his work with the rest of the city.
“This isn’t about me. It’s not about JJ,” Wile said. “It’s about what’s best for Woodland. I’m glad Woodland feels the same way as me.”
Wile was appointed to the commission seat 11 months ago. He cited the Port’s recent successes — including a $1.5 million land sale to Columbia Precast and the construction of two new industrial parks— as evidence of the Port’s “unstoppable” progress.
He said voters should keep him in the seat to continue the Port’s efforts to create jobs, recreation opportunities, and eventually, construct a deep-water access terminal at Austin Point.
Burke admitted some see him as a “rabble rouser.” He said he’d offer a critical voice on the council, such as re-opening the conversation about allowing fossil fuels to be processed at port property. He also argued current port leadership is not doing enough to open up recreation property at the Port’s riverfront properties.
Woodland City Council
Incumbent Karl Chapman had received 59% of the vote in Wednesday night returns for Position 4, besting challenger Keith Bellisle 446-303.
Chapman praised the city government’s improved cohesion since he took office four years ago and said more work remains to improve roads and relieve congestion at freeway Exit 21. He also advocated for more middle-income housing and industrial growth within the city limits.
Bellisle challenged the status quo, arguing that the city needs to find more creative ways to raise money. He also proposed forming neighborhood associations to strengthen community and police communication.
DeeAnna Holland argued that current city leadership has failed to support the police department, and said many city residents are being priced out of their hometown. She said she ran on a platform of increasing city transparency, especially in the budgeting process.
Her challenger Scott Peabody, who is a civil service commissioner for the city, was the safety director on Woodland’s new high school. He named traffic and infrastructure as his priorities and said exit 21 needed to be fixed before the city’s boundaries grow.
Rural Partial-County Library District
The Rural Partial-County Library District proposition sought to extend public library services to Cowlitz County residents living in the Woodland School District. It failed, getting only 25% approval. Wednesday’s count was 702 no, 238 yes.
It would have created a five-member board appointed by the county commissioners to oversee the new district’s budget, and would have levied up to 50 cents per $1,000 property tax on residents.
Supporters touted the value of offering library services to Woodland-area residents, who ordinarily must pay a $44 per person or $115 per household fee to get a library card. Opponents argued there was weak demand for the library district which did not outweigh the costs of adding a new tax on households.