Intercity Transit wrestles with sales tax increase

April 17th, 2009 by Ken

Members of the Intercity Transit Authority spent most of the afternoon Friday, wrestling with asking the voters to approve a sales tax increase. They came away convinced they needed the additional money but concerned voters will say NO.

Authority members spent the day in retreat, and after getting to know each other and doing visioning into the year 2050,  they faced the question:  Should we put a sales tax increase in front of the voters, and if so, when?

General Manager Mike Harbour told the group that the system had enough money to go through the year 2011 without a decrease in service.  But, without new revenue, Intercity Transit would have to cut back services after that date.

He warned the group that it would take time to buy buses, hire staff and do the other things necessary to meet the increasing service needs and a decision whether to place a 2/10th’s of one percent sales tax increase in front of the voters, had to be made soon.

Due to rising gas prices and economic conditions which made it harder for some people to drive, Intercity Transit saw an 18 percent increase in service in 2008 and a 13 percent increase in demand so far this year.

“The status quo is not an option for us,” Harbour told the group.  “We can’t retain our service level without additional revenue.”

The far ranging discussion among the authority members centered on the economy and education.

The newest member of the authority, Ed Hildreth, representing the City of Tumwater pointed out that the Timberland Regional Library just failed a tax levy.  He wanted to know what the outcome would be if Intercity Transit suffered the same fate.

Public Representative Eve Johnson said that education was the key.   “It’s got to be clearly understood by the voter that we’re not ripping them off.  If we do a good job of education, it doesn’t matter what the economy does,” she said.

Thurston County Commissioner Sandra Romero said that transit has the best chance of passing among all of the other tax increases, but added  “I don’t think it’s 100 percent.   I don’t know where it fits with more money for education or police.   If transit is the highest priority of the public, then we should let the voters decide,” she said.

Joe Baker, representing the City of Yelm said the system needed to go for the tax increase.  “We can’t be cowards,” he said. 

Another citizen representative Marty Thies said he didn’t see any harm in asking the voters.

And that’s the way it went most of the afternoon.  Authority members voicing support for a tax increase, but reluctant to do so in view of the economy.

Harbour was asked to do an educational effort to let the voters know what the tax increase would do.  He was also asked to develop a “drop dead date” by which the authority had to make a decision in order not to face a decrease in service.

Olympia representative Karen Messmer said that the local jurisdictions also had to be educated as to the need and Harbour said he would continue that effort.

Authority chair Tom Green summed up it by saying, “I sense unanimous support for a levy but understand that the caution is real.”

Posted in Government, Informational, Local Politics, The Real News

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