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BATTLE GROUND — During the next regular meeting of the Battle Ground City Council on Mon., Feb. 6, members of the city’s Transportation Benefit District (TBD), which is made up of the seven city council members, will consider a resolution to increase the current $20 vehicle tab fee to $40.
If the resolution is approved, the new tab fee will take effect in February of 2018.
“I am not one to make light of any taxation, but the current TBD tax per vehicle is 38 cents a week, every bit of that going to road preservation and maintenance in the city,” Battle Ground Mayor Philip Johnson said. “In my case, in the coming year my TBD bill will be $80, and possibly $160, if the increased car tab fee goes into effect. I would ask any of our citizens to go out and look at the road in the front of their house and ask themselves is preserving their street worth $20/$40 per vehicle a year.”
Although Johnson said he has not yet made up his mind completely regarding how he will vote on the proposed $40 fee, he said he did vote in favor of the original $20.
“Uncle Sam nor Olympia are going to help us keep up any neighborhood street in the city, so if we want to stem the deterioration, then the car owning part of our populace is going to have to chip in,” Johnson said. “Also, having those who use the road seems to be a much more fair way to allocate that proposition.”
Aside from increasing the vehicle tab fee to $40, another state-allowed TBD option is to put an initiative on an election ballot to increase the sales tax within the city of Battle Ground by .02 percent. This option would add 2 cents to a $100 purchase, and would be paid by all who purchased items that are taxed in the city. Increasing the sales tax, if this option is put on a future ballot and approved by voters, would provide approximately $580,000 in annual revenue that would be used for road maintenance and preservation.
“Perhaps the most fair way to allocate this burden to everyone who uses Battle Ground’s streets is a .02 percent sales tax increase,” Johnson said. “This would allocate this burden to a much broader share of the populace, our friends in Yacolt, La Center, Meadow Glade, etc., would be sharing the load with us. The .02 percent increase equals out to $20 per $10,000 of taxable purchases, so for most people in Battle Ground, it would be to their advantage to prefer the sales tax, for unless you are a prolific shopper of ‘taxable goods’ your bill would be less.”
“The sales tax requires a vote of the people, so maybe one day on the ballot will be a measure for the sales tax, and we’ll see if the folks in Battle Ground will vote to spread the burden to all 60,000-plus people who view Battle Ground as their economic hub,” Johnson continued. “I am already using a slogan that Ms. (Bonnie) Gilberti of the city offered: Share the road, share the load. This pretty much sums up both the tab fee and/or sales tax as it applies to Battle Ground. I hope that the folks feel the same.”
Bonnie Gilberti, communications manager/public information officer for the city, said the current annual revenue from the $20 TBD vehicle tab fee is about $250,000. She said this amount does not meet the level of need for maintenance and preservation of the city’s transportation infrastructure. Increasing the tab fee to $40 would increase that annual revenue of $250,000 to approximately $500,000.
Since being established in 2014 as a means to provide adequate levels of funding for the purpose of ongoing transportation improvements that preserve, maintain and, when needed, construct or reconstruct the transportation infrastructure of the city, the TBD has funded several miles of road maintenance and preservation through crack and slurry sealing, numerous miles of lane striping and more, according to city officials.
Maps indicating the TBD projects that have been completed to date are available at www.cityofbg.org/TBD.
Gilberti said this year’s TBD-funded maintenance and preservation projects have not been specifically identified other than $65,000 of TBD revenue dedicated to the South Parkway Improvement Project. The city was able to obtain a Transportation Improvement Board grant for the northern section of the project by meeting a 15 percent match requirement. Of the TBD revenue, $65,000 was leveraged to obtain a grant in the amount of $366,747.
On Jan. 25, eight bids for the South Parkway Improvement Project were opened at the official bid opening. City engineers then review each bid and will present the lowest responsible bid to city council members during the Mon., Feb. 6 meeting, which is when the contract is scheduled to be formally awarded. There will also be an informational open house on the South Parkway Improvement Project on Tue., Feb. 28, from 5:30-7 p.m., at City Hall, 109 SW 1st St., in Battle Ground. More information about this project can be found at http://www.cityofbg.org/s-parkway.
Several Battle Ground community members had different opinions on the possibility that TBD members will vote to increase the vehicle tab fee to $40 per year.
“Personally, I dislike the tab fee,’’ said Battle Ground resident Alex Reinhold, a former council member. “I think the council at the time took this option because it was the least amount of work but it isn’t fair at all. The people who have cars registered who live in the city of Battle Ground are forced to bear the costs of the road improvements when many more who don’t live in the city use the roads and also contribute to the road issues.’’
Reinhold went on to say, “now we have this tab fee, which is a tax that will never go away, nor will it ever get lower, and the people who live in the city still bear a disproportionate share of the road maintenance. I think it’s pretty ballsy of the council to double the fee on the tabs when none of the promised work on South Parkway has begun. The citizens shouldn’t have to pay double with no results. I understand they (council members) are blaming other agencies but there needs to be some accountability here.’’
Battle Ground resident Susan Tyni said she is not in favor of the TBD members increasing the tab fee.
“I really dislike the tab fee,” Tyni said. “The extra hit usually comes at a time when you can’t always afford it added onto the initial fee. However, I don’t mind a small sales tax increase. Depending on what you are buying, the amount is usually small enough that it is easier to manage. It’s easier to manage a very small amount over time than a larger one all at once.”
“$20 to $40 for the tabs? Now that is the kind of inflation I would like to see in income and growth in retirement funds,” Battle Ground resident Julie Schultz said. “I would say no on that. Sales tax would at least be more affordable at the time and I am used to paying sales tax on everything, not just nonperishable items. So maybe.”
Battle Ground resident Nathan Tibbetts is so opposed to the increase on tab fees that he promises to hold the council members who vote to approve the increase accountable.
“Personally, I’ll be looking at the council’s minutes and see who voted the tab fee in and keep it in mind come re-election later this year,’’ Tibbetts said.
Matt Stillman said he was understanding of the need to increase the tab fee.
“The tabs, it’s unavoidable,” Stillman said. “WSDOT budget has not been growing, but they have more roads and more people using them to maintain. What about the gas tax you say? More and more people are driving higher miles-per-gallon cars than ever before, to say nothing of hybrids and electric cars. So, it comes down to if you want roads to be able to drive on. Or do you want (crappy) pothole-filled streets falling into further disrepair and trashing your vehicles?”
“The tab fees have been really successful this far,” said Council Member Mike Dalesandro. “We’ve had roads striped and sealed, the TBD enabled us to get the grant funding for South Parkway. It’s dedicated to roads. I look at it and I think it’s pretty straightforward, responsible and very transparent. I feel it’s the right thing to do as we look forward to the future of the community.”
The possible vehicle tab fee increase from $20 to $40 per year will be discussed and voted on at the Mon., Feb. 6 city council meeting. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in Battle Ground City Hall, located at 109 SW 1st St., in Battle Ground. Learn more about the TBD by visiting http://www.cityofbg.org/TBD.