Gig Harbor mayor vetoes new transportation fee, saying it should be much higher

Gig Harbor city officials have cut four projects from a list of street improvements to be funded in part by the city’s traffic impact fee, which is tied to new construction.
Gig Harbor city officials have cut four projects from a list of street improvements to be funded in part by the city’s traffic impact fee, which is tied to new construction. joshua.bessex@gateline.com

Gig Harbor Mayor Kit Kuhn has vetoed the higher transportation impact fee the City Council approved last week, saying it should be substantially higher.

The City Council voted Nov. 26 to raise the fee to $2,896 from $2,102 per vehicle trip during the evening peak hour. The money would pay for proposed traffic projects in the city.

During the council’s debate, members considered new fee rates of up to $10,379, which would have covered the $93.6 million needed for 18 projects.

To get to the lower amount, the council dropped four projects from the list, cutting the amount needed by $59.9 million.

“Some council members wanted the fee very high while some wanted it very low,” Kuhn said in a post on the city’s blog announcing his veto. “Other council members wanted a balance that would provide funding while still allowing growth and a fair price.

“This is what I was hoping for as well. But for odd reasons the council voted for roughly $2,800 - which will not even come close to solving the needs for our city and citizens.”

Kuhn said he will bring the issue back to council members at their meeting Monday, when he hopes they will consider his preferred rate of $5,071.

To get to this rate, Kuhn said two traffic projects should be dropped — the Hunt Street crossing project and a roundabout project associated with Hunt Street.

“By doing this the city would focus on the most immediate projects first while cutting the TIF almost in half from the original proposal,” Kuhn said.

“Instead of the original $93,625,000 it brings the project total down to $52,475,000. This would result in an impact fee that is both reasonable and could provide adequate funding for the remaining projects.”

Kuhn would return to the list a $3.75 million project on Vernhardson Street and a $15 million project on 38th Avenue Northwest.

He said the fee needs to be higher than the council’s amount in order to meet residents’ desire that the city’s traffic problems be solved.

Even with a higher fee development will continue, he said.

“Months ago, a major developer in Gig Harbor even told me they could build and live with $5,500 - and this is less,” Kuhn said. “Building will still occur. Don’t be fooled into thinking that we will come to a halt.”

City Councilman Michael Perrow called the veto “a bold move” but said Kuhn does not appear to have the votes needed to avoid having the action overridden.

“It’s his choice to do it, and we’ll see how it goes,” Perrow said of the veto. “It’s uncharted territory for all of us.”

As for returning the Vernhardson Street and 38th Avenue Northwest projects to the list, Perrow said he disagreed with Kuhn. Both are sidewalk and bike lane projects and will not affect growth, which is the purpose of the fee, he said.

According to the mayor’s post, the City Council on Monday can:

Override the mayor’s veto if five members vote to do so.

Amend the ordinance setting the fee by changing the list of projects.

Let the veto stand and reconsider the fee after the new year.

“Please know that I do not take this action lightly and know its impact on council and staff,” Kuhn said. “However, I was elected to do what is best for all citizens for Gig Harbor, and I believe this is what is best.”

For more information:

Gig Harbor Mayor Kit Kuhn’s blog post: http://www.cityofgigharbor.net/Blog.aspx?CID=1.

The city’s transportation impact fee ordinance: https://www.cityofgigharbor.net/DocumentCenter/View/2070/Draft-Ordinance-Transportation-Impact-Fee-Update-11-13-18?bidId