Gateway: News

Prop 1 would raise sales tax to ease gridlock

A measure on Tuesday’s ballot would raise Gig Harbor’s sales tax to fund a long list of traffic improvements on the city’s increasingly congested streets.

Proposition 1 would authorize the Gig Harbor Transportation Benefit District to collect a tax of two-tenths of a cent, effectively raising sales tax within the city from 8.5 percent to 8.7 percent.

The district would then fund a defined list of street projects, including three projects on Stinson Avenue, metering lights on the Burnham Drive roundabout, and several improvements to congested onramps to Highway 16.

The improvements total about $58,941,000.

Under state law, the money can only be used for the identified projects. The tax would expire after 10 years, unless renewed by a public vote.

The mayor and city council have endorsed the proposition.

“Only a small amount of tax will be paid by the citizens of Gig Harbor, because of outlying people coming in and paying the tax, but everyone will feel the benefit from improved roads,” said Mayor Kit Kuhn. “Two-tenths of a percent is 20 cents per 10 dollars. This is only for 10 years, and is estimated to raise $1.6 million per year.”

Technically, the Transportation Benefit District, or TBD, is separate from the city, but was created by the council as a legal vehicle for capital road projects, as allowed under state law. The road projects must be identified in the city’s Transportation Improvement Plan, or TIP.

The result is alliterative: The TBD would fund the TIP.

In endorsing the proposition, the council appended a staff-prepared “fact sheet” that pointed out much of the tax would be paid by outlanders — the additional 6,000 people who come into the city to shop each day and then leave.

“We are 87 percent busier during the day,” the mayor said, referring to population.

It also notes that the money must be spent on motorized traffic only — bike paths and pedestrian trails could be included in projects, but would have to be funded from other sources.

“It will not be going to repairs or maintenance,” Kuhn said. “That will be paid by existing funds.”

The top three projects on the prioritized TIP list are on Stinson Avenue — paving improvements from Pioneer Way to Rosedale Street; intersection improvements at Rosedale Street and Harborview Drive.

The next four are on 38th Avenue in phases —from the southern city limits to Briarwood Lane, from Briarwood to 50th Street; from 50th to 56th Street; and from 56th to Hunt St.

After that comes the Burnham roundabout metering, then new SR-16 onramp lanes at Wollochet Drive and Pioneer Way.

The lists winds on down to number 19, intersection improvements at the intersection of Rosedale Street and Skansie Avenue.

A committee in favor of the sales tax measure, called Gig Harbor Citizens for Traffic Improvement, wrote a voters’ pamphlet statement that says, in part:

“... traffic congestion is lowering our quality of life and impacting the city’s small-town character. Congestion increases fuel costs, creates air pollution and is bad for our small businesses.

The statement adds that the projects on the traffic improvement plan could begin to be implemented “as soon as 2020.

The statement was signed by Jeff Katke, Steve Ekberg and George Pollit.

The statement against the proposition, from Grassroots for a Healthy Harbor, says it “squanders taxpayer money” by concentrating on cars. It goes on, in part:

“There will never be enough money to reduce congestion if we build for ‘motor vehicles only,’ as this scheme mandates. Let’s think of the bigger picture and create an effective transportation system by funding all modes.”

“This vote is a referendum on our vision for our city. If you care about preserving our city’s character and charm, rather than making it easier for cars to speed through, please join us in voting ‘no.’

The statement against was signed by Marlene Druker, Melissa Moller and Brett Marlo DeSantis.