For the first time in 47 years, Tacoma voters have approved spending more public money to fix city streets.
After tax proposals in 2006 and 2013 failed at the ballot box, Pierce County officials certified results Tuesday that make it official: Both parts of a tax package to fund long-neglected road repairs for 10 years have passed, albeit by a remarkably tight margin for the largest piece of funding.
Just 22 ballots out of 35,540 separated the Yes from the No votes on the question of adding new property and utilities taxes to fix city streets. Officials estimate the two narrowly-approved taxes will account for $13.5 million of the program’s $17.5 million annual tax revenues. A companion proposal to add a tenth of a percent to Tacoma’s sales taxes passed handily, with yes votes accounting for 57.9 percent of the total.
City Hall officials said the revenues from the two ballot proposals will provide enough money, when combined with other funds, including grants, to rebuild and maintain up to 70 percent of residential streets and pave the city’s 167 blocks of gravel streets.
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Mayor Marilyn Strickland and Public Works Director Kurtis Kingsolver said before the election that a win would mean 25 new employees in the street department, along with hundreds of new hires by private contractors who will do much of the road work.
“We’re very pleased that the voters stepped up and said yes,” Strickland said Tuesday.
She added that city officials will hold an internal meeting soon to map out construction plans. The time required for tax proceeds to build means the first signs of work will require some waiting.
“It’ll be soon,” she said, “but we have to accumulate the revenue first.”
The larger of the two successful city roads ballot proposals will add 20 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to Tacoma property taxes and a 1.5 percent tax on city utilities bills. Because some city utilities, such as Tacoma Power, serve areas outside the Tacoma limits, the proposal drew criticism from officials in University Place and Lakewood whose citizens did not get to vote in the tax election.
Tacoma voters’ last approval of a roads-repair spending plan came in a 1968 bond election.
Tuesday’s certification by the the Pierce County Auditor’s Office also confirmed that there will be two automatic recounts at taxpayers’ expense — one for an Orting City Council race and one for a University Place School Board contest. Both will be held next week.
Because the Tacoma roads proposition is a ballot measure, it does not qualify for an automatic recount.
The tax package’s most vocal opponent said he has no plans to pursue a recount, which would require a deposit of more than $5,000.
“It’s probably not going to change the outcome,” said Steve Cook of TacomaNOw, an anti-tax group. “I’m just very frustrated.”
Two recounts set in Pierce County
The Nov. 3 election will drag into December for two candidates in Orting and two in University Place.
Nicola McDonald edged Sam Colorossi by three votes (665 to 662) for Orting City Council Position 5, according to final election results that were certified Tuesday. That margin is so close, a hand recount will be conducted next week.
Annie Fitzsimmons beat Rick Maloney by 32 votes (3,267 to 3,235) for UP School Board Position 5, according to certified results. Their race is headed to a machine recount.
The cost of both recounts will be picked up by taxpayers.
McDonald is a former one-term Orting council member. If her razor-thin victory over Colorossi holds up, she will have defeated a former 18-year mayor and longtime councilman looking to retain his seat.
Fitzsimmons is seeking her second four-year term on the University Place School Board, while Maloney has been a board member since 1995. Fitzsimmons currently holds Position 3 but switched to run against Maloney for Position 5. Newcomer T'wina Franklin ran unopposed for Position 3.