Two local governments in Pierce County are following the trend of many other cities and towns looking to generate more revenue for transportation projects.
The Fife City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday night to create a Transportation Benefit District in hopes of exploring it as a future revenue generator for roads and infrastructure. Transportation is a top issue in the city of about 9,200, where a busy commercial corridor connects to the Port of Tacoma.
Similarly, the Steilacoom Town Council will discuss and take public comment on the potential formation of a Transportation Benefit District at its Feb. 17 meeting.
These districts serve as independent taxing authorities that can levy property taxes and impact fees for transportation improvements. Many South Sound cities and towns that have adopted the taxing districts have also levied a $20 car tab renewal fee.
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In Fife, council members Pat Hulcey, Winston Marsh, Lew Wolfrom and Bryan Yambe voted for the district, along with Mayor Tim Curtis. Council members Rob Cerqui and Barry Johnson opposed it.
Some members were hesitant to take the next step and impose fees or taxes on residents.
Cerqui said he won’t support any new taxes and would only support a $20 car tab fee if the burden is shared by residents and businesses. He stressed that the current fee structure used by other cities doesn’t require businesses to contribute. That would be a problem in Fife, he said, because freight trucks that use local roads have the biggest impact.
“It’s an equity issue,” he said. “(We would ask) our citizens to pay (more) while our businesses are off the hook.”
Hulcey shared those concerns while also acknowledging the potential benefits of a transportation district. He noted that the city’s proximity to the port has effects on roads that are “unheard of” for a city of Fife’s size.
Curtis stressed that Tuesday’s vote merely created the new district and that using it to generate revenue will be an ongoing discussion.
“We’re not going to use this unless we need it,” he said. “We’re not advocating any tax at this time.”
Fife’s ordinance includes an expiration date in three years, should the city decide not to levy any fees or taxes.
The Steilacoom Town Council isn’t expected to vote on forming a transportation district until March at the earliest, said Town Administrator Paul Loveless.
As in Fife, a fee likely wouldn’t be imposed right away.
“I am sure we’ll have discussions and recommendation to have a vote on it,” said Mayor Ron Lucas. “But I do not think we would fund it.”
Lucas supports forming the district. Some town streets aren’t eligible for state transportation grant funding; those that are have already received it, he said.
The town is using money from reserves to pay for road projects in 2015 and 2016. It will need additional revenues for maintenance in the future, Lucas said.
If the Town Council approves the district, it would join the west Pierce County cities of DuPont, Lakewood and University Place. All three impose a $20 car tab fee.
The city of Gig Harbor joins Steilacoom as the only other west Pierce County jurisdiction without a transportation benefit district. Gig Harbor City Manager Ron Williams said there is no talk of creating a district there.
The city of Tacoma and the east Pierce communities of Buckley, Carbonado, Eatonville, Edgewood, Orting and Roy also have formed districts, and all have imposed the car tab fee.