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Voters shoot down transit tax hike

"No doubt about it, Kitsap County voters Tuesday night said no way to a proposed sales tax hike that was expected to partially restore Kitsap Transit service and fares to pre-Initiative 695 levels.During the months leading up to the primary election, Kitsap Transit officials hoped to recoup a majority of the funds state voters slashed last year with the passage of I-695. So they asked county citizens to raise the sales tax here by three-tenths of 1 percent.The measure, called Proposition 1, would have generated about $7.5 million a year. Those funds would have partially healed the $10.2 million gash in Kitsap Transit's budget created by I-695, which slashed the motor-vehicle excise tax that helped fund transportation across the state. All told, Kitsap Transit's budget took a 43 percent hit in January after I-695 took effect.In an effort to balance an uncertain, beleaguered budget, transit officials initially cut service by about 25 percent in January and doubled most fares.We knew (the vote) was going to be close, but obviously we're pretty disappointed, said Transit service development director John Clauson. But it's too soon to tell how we are going to react to this latest development. Not until executive director Dick Hayes discusses several options next week with the transit board, can we announ-ce any plans.Clauson, who lives blocks away from the Givens Community Center in South Kitsap, headed over to the community center Tuesday evening.That's where he heard the news.Voter and transit patron Laura Emerson, not unlike most Kitsap Transit officials, isn't so sure what the tax failure will do to her commute. But she's worried nevertheless.Using Kitsap Transit buses, even after fares doubled in January, has been a way for me to keep my independence, said Emerson, who voted in favor of the proposition Tuesday. And I know it's the same way for a lot of people, especially elderly folks and those with disabilities.Emerson is self-employed and works at a retirement center in Bremerton. She can't afford a car, so she spends $20 a month on a low-income pass that's accepted on any Kitsap Transit bus and on the Port Orchard-to-Bremerton foot ferries owned by Horluck Transportation.I can't afford a car, and I depend on the buses at least five days a week, twice a day, she said. So if service is cut significantly, I'll either have to find another way to work, or quit my job and find something closer to home so I can walk.Although Emerson realizes higher taxes aren't popular and can be hard on people, she says services just can't come for free.In retrospect, I am pretty sad that the proposition didn't pass, said Mike Riley, a 54 year-old Central Kitsap resident. Riley said he doesn't rely on public transportation as much as Emerson, but when he does it can get complicated because of where he lives.With somewhat of a chuckle in his voice, Riley said that had he voted Tuesday, he would have had to jump on three different buses and catch a foot ferry to do so, then start the whole process over again on his way home.I can understand how those who don't rely on public transportation wouldn't necessarily realize how voting no affects those who do, Riley said.Some voters were glad the sales-tax hike proposition failed so resoundingly.One man, who asked not to be identified, said he voted against Prop 1 becaus he doesn't totally trust how Kitsap Transit manages its finances. He and his wife have lived in Kitsap for about 12 years, and she commutes back and forth to Seattle everyday for work. The unidentified voter said he doesn't understand why the transit agency, for instance, insisted on raising parking fees to $4 at the Southworth Ferry terminal. No one parks there any more, he said and, instead, they clog other park and rides further away and then take shuttles to the ferries.Still other voters didn't care what happened with the proposition either way. "

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