By a 4-3 vote, the Sequim City Council decided Monday night to put a proposed two-tenths of 1 percent sales tax increase for a citywide "transportation benefit district" on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.
The three "no" votes were cast by council members Walt Schubert, Paul McHugh and Bill Huizinga who wanted to delay a vote to allow more time for public education on the district’s benefits.
Prior to that vote, the council voted 5-2 to amend the transportation benefit district ordinance approved in July. Schubert and Huizinga voted "no."
The amendments were to include projects not in the city’s transportation improvement plan as eligible for funding and establish the current city limit as the district boundary.
Acting Public Works director Bill Bullock said the proposed sales tax increase would be a "fairly sizable dedicated funding source" for street repairs and maintenance, which typically are funded from outside sources such as state grants or developer fees.
The city also faces more competition for those state grants now that it is no longer classified as a small city, he said.
Bullock said the money would fund transportation projects primarily on arterials and collector streets although pedestrian and multimodal projects could be included as well as matching money for state and federal grants.
If approved by voters, Sequim’s sales tax would increase by two-tenths of 1 percent from 8.4 percent to 8.6 percent or an extra two cents on a $10 purchase.
The proposed sales tax increase would not apply to food, prescriptions, gasoline, rent or mortgage payments. It would raise an estimated $600,000 based upon the city’s 2007 sales tax figures. The proposed ballot issue must be sent to the Secretary of State by Aug. 12 to qualify for the Nov. 4 ballot.
Former City Councilor Bob Anundson said he didn’t object to the district itself but the city should just fund it with two-tenths of 1 percent from its existing sales tax.
Interim city manager Bob Spinks said taking that amount of money from the city’s general fund would mean an immediate layoff of up to eight people.
Bill Littlejohn said people are very concerned about the economic slowdown so perhaps the ballot issue should be delayed until the economy improves in the future.
Sequim resident Mike
McAleer said a sales tax increase would not send a "business friendly signal" and street improvements should be funded by local improvement districts.
Pat Clark, a resident of the city’s urban growth area, said to put the issue on the ballot and let the citizens decide.
McHugh said his concern is the public can’t be properly educated in time for the vote and he’s not seeing the necessary support to keep it from going down in flames.
The city should take another year to promote the proposal and develop a grassroots campaign or else it will be voted down, he said.
Mayor Laura Dubois said if approved, the city wouldn’t collect the revenue from the sales tax increase until the second quarter of 2009, which might not be the end of the recession.
The city’s general fund is so tight no money is set aside for streets and roads, Dubois said. If the city defers street maintenance too long then the pavement deteriorates to the point where a new street needs to be built and it’s not fiscally responsible to let street maintenance go too long, she said.
Schubert said the timing of the ballot issue is wrong. There’s not enough time to educate the public and the Olympic Medical Center levy also is on the ballot, he said.
McHugh said he supports the proposed district and thinks it is needed but he is on the council and so knows more about it than the public.
City Councilor Susan Lorenzen said, "I’m particularly thrilled to see the support and it will be a huge plus for
Sequim if it gets on the ballot."
City Attorney Craig Ritchie said the city could hold only one informational meeting and distribute one informational brochure regarding the proposed district, anything else must be done by outside groups.
Bullock said public comment was gathered through a July 26 public hearing, comment forms and an Internet survey.
Of the 30 comments received, 24 favored it "one way or another" and 20 of those supported placing it on the Nov. 4 ballot.