Spokane County commissioners may be looking for feedback on forming a regionwide TBD PDQ. But Spokane Valley City Council members said Tuesday they want to make sure their own I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed first.
Discussion on the formation of a TBD – or transportation benefit district – has gone back a couple of years, as it gives city and county governments the means to raise funding for road improvements via a fee on vehicle license tabs. A fee of up to $20 could be imposed without going to voters, however nearly all local leaders have said any proposal would go on the ballot before approval.
At this week’s study session meeting, council members discussed the pros and cons of forming a regional TBD – which would include the major cities and unincorporated areas of Spokane County – that would create a uniform fee for county residents. County Commissioner Todd Mielke even dropped by – taking a brief timeout from his vacation – to get some feedback and pitch the idea of a local collaboration.
“We think it would give us the benefit of consistency across the region,” he said. Mielke added that the regional approach would keep local jurisdictions from setting up different fees, which might cause some car owners to register from homes where the tab fee is cheaper.
It didn’t take long, however, for council members to express that they wanted to examine what a Spokane Valley-only TBD scenario might look like – and how much money it could generate.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time,” said Council Member Bill Gothmann before asking city staff to come up with a TBD proposal for Spokane Valley for consideration. “For me, this is a rough decision.”
TBDs are, for all intents and purposes “the only game in town,” Gothmann said, borrowing a quote from Spokane City Council Member Joe Shogan. Shogan has pushed his colleagues in an attempt to move forward with the $20 fee in order to get some funds coming in for much-needed road improvements in that city.
Gothmann noted, however, that the fee on car tabs would have to be closer to $45 to get sufficient funding of $20 million annually to all the players – 70 percent for the local jurisdictions, 30 percent for regional projects – and he has strong reservations voters would agree to that figure.
“I doubt they’d approve a regional one,” he said.
There is also the question of who would run the TBD. Under the state legislation, either a new or existing regional agency – such as the Spokane Regional Transportation Committee or the county commissioners themselves -- could govern the district. But giving up local control to an outside group may be the very aspect that sinks a regionwide TBD before it could even begin.
“I was elected to represent Spokane Valley,” Gothmann said, adding that $4.5 million has been identified for yearly maintenance in the city. Some of that is being plugged with a 6-percent telephone utility fee that was set up to be temporary until another funding source could be found. Gothmann fears the tax could be permanent if Spokane Valley joined a regional TBD that didn’t meet the city’s road fund needs.
“I don’t want to give up our autonomy,” he said.
The matter will be discussed further at the council’s July 20 meeting.