When it comes to the idea of a regional transportation benefit district, the city of Liberty Lake appears to be headed in another direction.
The detour was manifest again at the June 15 City Council meeting after Community Development Director Doug Smith provided a brief overview of the proposal along with a request from the Spokane County Commissioners concerning the city’s current stance on the funding initiative. The issue had been raised at Liberty Lake City Hall in April after Spokane Mayor Mary Verner and County Commissioner Todd Mielke launched a discussion about a possible $45 car tab that would add $20 million annually to support ongoing road maintenance as well as a variety of regional transportation projects.
A vehicle tab fee of up to $20 can be assessed without a public vote. The regional plan would require a ballot measure, although no election date has been confirmed. County Commissioner Mark Richard said that any tax – “whether it’s $5 or $50 would go before voters.” Richard added that, if the funding proposal passed, an advisory board would be set up to oversee allocation of the funds.
“It’s important to demonstrate that we’re using such money wisely,” Richard said.
Richard said that looking for savings within the current system should take precedence over any potential TBD campaign. The county is in the process of conducting an audit of its own roads division to, in Richards word, “find out if we can be more efficient.”
“I would encourage others to do the same,” he said. “I think it starts there.”
In Liberty Lake, the breakdown of a future TBD – which would provide 70 percent for cities and 30 percent for regional projects – still has some municipal leaders refraining from an endorsement. Based on an equation that figures in population and vehicle miles traveled, Liberty Lake would generate around $245,000 annually, or just over 1.2 percent of the overall TBD funds with just over $171,000 remaining in the city and approximately $73,400 going to regional projects.
“Because we’re on the outskirts of the region, most of these projects wouldn’t benefit us,” said Council Member Ryan Romney. “I see this as a way for Spokane and Spokane Valley to get 30 percent of our revenue for projects they think are significant.”
Liberty Lake Mayor Wendy Van Orman was one of the few who provided a counterpart to the discussion by noting that collaboration on a regional TBD would benefit the city when it came to qualifying for state grants. In making a point about the impact of routes like the north/south freeway, Van Orman questioned those in attendance at City Hall about their use of arterials outside the city.
“Do you stay inside Liberty Lake or do you travel on regional roads?” she asked.
Council Member Josh Beckett cited the current financial situation and the possibility of a TBD as an “example of the state’s failed responsibility that has been pushed down to cities.”
Romney was one of several council members who supported the idea of a $20 tab fee within Liberty Lake as a way of responding to the potential installment of a regional TBD. Smith confirmed that a regional program could not overlap a municipal collection.
“I think we should be actively getting ready to form our own TBD,” Romney said.
Based on state statutes, a regional TBD requires the support of 60 percent of the affected jurisdictions and 75 percent of the population before a $20 tab fee could be introduced or a higher fee could be placed on the ballot. Echoing Van Orman’s statements about the value of stable regional roads, Richard said the goals of county leadership is to “make sure transportation is reliable everywhere.”
“I would equate it to a house,” Richard said. “If you put off improvements like replacing the siding or doors, it’s going to be much more expensive later.”