When it comes to local road-improvement needs, the road ahead doesn’t look much smoother.
So, according to some local leaders, it might be time to share the ride together.
Last fall, when local leaders met to discuss ways to raise money for transportation purposes, representatives from local cities and towns were asked to support a move that could add an extra $20 – or more -- a year for drivers when they license their vehicles. That money would go into a fund to be used to improve and maintain local and regional thoroughfares.
On Friday, those same officials – with a few new faces who have appeared since last November’s election – met again at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center for the loosely affiliated Spokane Regional Council of Governments. Only this time, the message was more emphatic.
“I need input,” Spokane County Commissioner Todd Miekle told elected officials from municipalities spanning Spokane Valley to Cheney.
Mieke – who was joined in his presentation with Spokane Mayor Mary Verner – said the formation of a “transportation benefit district,” or TBD, gives this area an opportunity to raise funding that could help them move forward with regional transportation projects and also improve local streets. However, nothing will happen unless the affected jurisdictions are willing to get on board.
The problem, however, is that financially strapped citizens – already battered by a recession and unemployment -- may be reluctant to vote themselves more taxes for any reason. Under state law, a TBD can collect up to $20 per licensing fee by action elections of city and county government leaders. Anything more than that, however would require ballot approval by the people.
“If you go with the $20 people will grumble and complain, but they will go along with it,” said Spokane City Council Member Joe Shogan. “But my gut feeling is going to be extremely difficult to do any fund-raising that’s going to require a vote.”
To raise $20 million, it would require a car tab fee of between $40 and $50, thus necessitating a vote. Of that amount, 30 percent would be earmarked for regional projects while the remaining 70 percent could be divvied up between the local governments.
That brought up another problem: Who would get the most money? If the breakdown is by population, the city of Spokane is over 44 percent. If the formula is based on road miles, then unincorporated Spokane County would get the most with over 58 percent of the money collected in the TBD. Other possibilities include merging the two equations, or by weighing average daily vehicle miles more heavily.
In the past, city of Spokane Valley officials have been reluctant to look to the TBD approach, saying it doesn’t raise enough money within its 10-year time limit to adequately fund projects. Work is being done at the legislative level to revisit that provision, Mielke said.
Mielke stressed that local leaders shouldn’t worry so much about how the money would be collected or distributed at this point, but rather he was more interested in knowing that they thought the TBD concept is sound and that a TBD should be formed in the near future.
And while Mielke encouraged the group to begin public hearings on the topic within their own jurisdictions, some were skeptical that the message could be carried effectively if the issue of how much it could cost taxpayers is not addressed.
“I need to know what we’re going to do before we give up our rights,” said Airway Heights Mayor Patrick Rushing.