Lakewood, UP leaders oppose Tacoma utility tax increase

Lakewood and University Place civic leaders oppose a City of Tacoma-proposed utility tax that would tax residents outside of Tacoma to improve Tacoma roads.

The tax is one of two measures Tacoma has on the Nov. 3 ballot to help pay for road improvements.

The Lakewood City Council made its opposition formal Monday night with unanimous approval of a resolution against Tacoma’s Proposition 3.

The measure calls for a 1.5 percent tax on power, natural gas and phone service earnings. In addition, it would levy another 20 cents per $1,000 of assessed value on property taxes in Tacoma.

Money generated from the additional taxes, combined with a second proposal to increase Tacoma’s sales tax by 0.1 percent, would generate a projected $175 million, according to Tacoma officials.

The money would be used to build and maintain up to 70 percent of Tacoma’s residential street network and address projects in the city’s transportation master plan and its six-year comprehensive transportation program.

The taxes would end after 10 years.

Lakewood and University Place leaders take issue with the proposed utility tax because it would apply to Tacoma Public Utilities, which serves people outside Tacoma city limits.

Even though the tax would stretch beyond Tacoma city limits, only Tacoma residents can vote on the measure.

If Tacoma voters approve the proposition, Tacoma Public Utilities customers in Lakewood and University Place would pay for road improvements in Tacoma.

“It’s a cost increase to our citizens without an opportunity for our citizens to weigh in,” UP Councilwoman Caroline Belleci said.

The UP City Council discussed the proposition at a study session Monday. The council is expected to vote on a resolution similar to the one Lakewood approved at an Oct. 19 meeting.

All of its 32,000 residents are served by Tacoma Public Utilities. That number is smaller in Lakewood, where 6,500 residents are public utility customers.

Lakewood residents spoke against Proposition 3 at a Sept. 21 Lakewood council meeting.

Calling it “taxation without representation”, they urged the council to let Tacoma know Lakewood did not support the measure.

Lakewood Councilman Jason Whalen said the council supported the resolution because residents asked for it, but the city can’t stop the measure.

“This is a shot across the bow as opposed to something we can influence,” he said before voting.

This is the second time Lakewood and University Place leaders voiced opposition to a proposed utility tax increase in Tacoma to pay for road improvements.

The last time was in 2013. Tacoma voters also opposed the tax increase, voting down Proposition 1.

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467