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Transportation Benefit Fund comes back

Earlier this month it looked as though the Sequim City Council had dropped the idea of establishing a Transportation Benefit District for the time being but during the council’s June 9 regular meeting, the proposed revenue source was back and winning majority support.

According to Councilwoman Suzan Lorenzen, a main supporter of the funding source, pushing ahead would actually save the city money.

A Transportation Benefit District is a fund with monies going directly toward transportation improvement projects, from adding street signals to completing sidewalks.

Revenue toward the funds can be generated in a number of ways. In this case, the city of Sequim would be proposing a citywide sales tax increase of two-tenths of 1 percent. In order to implement the sales tax increase, however, the proposal would have to be brought before city residents for a vote.

According to city staff, it’s far more cost effective to have the public referendum on the November general election ballot — $5,000 to $7,500 — than holding a special spring public referendum, which would cost $15,000 to $20,000.

According to the consulting firm Gray and Osborne, based on Sequim’s 2007 sales revenues, an estimated $600,000 could be generated annually through the sales tax increase. All of the money generated would go directly into the Transportation Benefit District. The district would have a 10-year lifespan. Afterward it would need to be re-established.

Interim city manager Robert Spinks said a sales tax increase is one of only a few ways to guarantee a protected stream of funding.

The sales tax increase has garnered more attention than other revenue sources, such as licensing increases, because it would reach beyond the city’s borders. Everyone buying goods in Sequim, regardless of where they live, would have to pay the tax.

“I know our neighbors feel really guilty about using our streets and not being able to pay us back,” planning commissioner Theodore Miller said, adding that putting the proposal out on the November ballot would take some political courage but the city must at least try.

“The city desperately needs more funding resources,” Miller said.

Although supportive of the increase and the creation of a Transportation Benefit District, Councilman Paul McHugh echoed Miller’s sentiments, saying that a tax increase most likely would be unpopular with the general public.

“No matter how good it is to us, I think there’s a slim chance it’s going to pass,” McHugh said.

Planning commission chairman Larry Freedman, another supporter of the increase, called it “a total uphill battle.”

Educating the public is therefore key. Although the council cannot publicly speak for or against the increase, it can hold one educational public meeting. Attorney Craig Ritchie was asked to draw up a list of who can publicly support the measure. Could Freedman speak to various community organizations, such as the Rotary clubs, and could the city’s Citizen Advisory Committee hold public meetings regarding the sales tax increase?

In a 6-1 vote, the council voted to direct staff to draw up the boundaries of a proposed Transportation Benefit District. The council will hold a public meeting regarding the boundaries and vote to adopt an ordinance establishing the district in July.

Councilman Walt Schubert was the only one to vote against the measure.

The council has until Aug. 12 to file with the county auditor to have a proposal for the sales tax increase included on the Nov. 4 ballot.

“Come August, if there isn’t a swell of support, I’m going to have a tough time spending money on this,” McHugh said.



“The city desperately needs more funding resources.”

— Ted Miller, Sequim Planning Commission

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