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Tacoma: City won’t seek ballot measure to fix streets, pot holes

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on July 11, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
July 11, 2012 9:58 pm

A big dip in the latest property tax assessments has spurred City of Tacoma officials to back off a plan for a ballot measure this fall that would have asked voters to raise property taxes to fix the city’s pothole-riddled streets.

City Manager T.C. Broadnax announced Wednesday he has recommended against the proposed levy lid lift, which had sought to raise property taxes by 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to raise a projected $9 million per year for six years.

The measure was one of several recommendations made by a citizens’ task force formed last  year to examine ways to deal with Tacoma’s rampant street problems — estimated to cost $800 million to fix.

But city officials nixed the idea this week, after the Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer’s Office announced last month that assessed property values in Tacoma had plummeted by about 10 percent.  The drop meant the city could, at most, raise only about half of the hoped-for $9 million per year, city officials said Wednesday.

“At this point, the return would be insignificant,” Councilman Anders Ibsen said.  ”It would be a waste of our time to pursue that (ballot measure) option.”

Had the city pursued the the ballot measure anyway, Tacoma also would have maxed out its available property tax funding capacity, Public Works Director Dick McKinley added.

In a prepared statement Wednesday, Mayor Marilyn Strickland called the city’s reversal  ”a strategically sound recommendation that is financially responsible and will maximize taxpayer investment.”

Broadnax is expected to brief the council on the issue and discuss alternatives next Tuesday, city spokeswoman Gwen Schuler said.

At least two other recommendations made by the task force — options that wouldn’t require voter approval — remain on the table. They include issuing a utility revenue bond package to coordinate replacement of aging sewer and stormwater systems and imposing a $20 car-tab fee to fund a new Transportation Benefit District.

“I know the council will be looking at all those options,” McKinley said.  ”They understand clearly how important it is to fix the roads.”

By creating a state-authorized transportation benefit district, local jurisdictions can raise revenues for transportation improvements by imposing a variety of fees beyond just those for traditional car license tabs.

Council members initially balked at the car-tab fee idea. They feared if the city enacted it before voters had a say on the ballot measure, support at the polls would dampen.

In the aftermath of voter-approved Initiative 695 — which slashed the state’s Motor Vehicle Excise Tax once used to fund local street projects  – state lawmakers are expected to consider a plan to authorize local street utilities to fund roadway improvements.

“The truest solution lies with the Legislature,” said Ibsen. “We need a dedicated source for street maintenance.”

In May, after receiving results from a $12,000 poll that showed 68 percent of Tacoma voters supported raising taxes for road improvements, the city moved ahead with the ballot measure. Last month, Broadnax and the council formed a new citizens task force charged with drafting a priority list of road improvement projects that could be paid for by a voter-approved measure.

Despite the city’s reversal this week on the ballot measure, the task force will be asked to complete its work.

“That will be useful for us in the future, if funding does become available,” Schuler said.

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