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Bremerton: $20 car tab fees are here to stay
In a 4-3 vote last week, the Bremerton City Council voted to extend the life of the city’s Transportation Benefit District, which collects $20 car tab fees from residents, to 2020.
The TBD, a separate legal entity with a board that mirrors that of the council, but meets separately, was created in 2009 and was originally scheduled to dissolve in February of next year.
The TBD began collecting $20 car tab fees from Bremerton residents in 2011. That was after voters overwhelmingly rejected $30 car tab fees in a ballot measure in 2009, with about 70 percent voting no.
City Council President Greg Wheeler, citing that rejection by voters, voted against extending the TBD.
“The citizens came back with a mandate,” Wheeler said. “This was not close. They came with a mandate and said, ‘Don’t do this.’”
Wheeler noted that last week’s vote only dealt with extending the TBD and not necessarily ongoing collection of $20 car tab fees.
“But, this decision is not in a vacuum,” he said. “They are inter-related.”
Several citizens also spoke out against extending the district another six years during last week’s public hearing.
Bremerton resident Bob Dollar said he was opposed to the possibility of extending the TBD. Dollar also spoke out against using TBD dollars for capital improvement projects like the Lower Wheaton Way Project which recently got $250,000 from the TBD.
“That’s outrageous,” he said. “That’s not what we were told it was going to be used for.”
Deirdre McKeel, who made an unsuccessful run for city council last year, also spoke out against extending the TBD.
“It seems to have stumbled somewhat last year and there was a significant amount of work that was not completed and there’s no vehicle in place to report material changes to the annual plans,” she said.
The TBD budgeted $350,000 worth of maintenance work last year, but only got about $50,000 worth of work, mainly in the form of crack-sealing, done.
McKeel noted that state law, the TBD ordinance and municipal codes require publication of any material changes in scope of work, schedules, and delivery of work.
“To get the public benefit of the TBD and adequately report any material change, (state law) requires that the TBD have a material change policy,” she said. “I cannot find one. There’s multiple references in the ordinance and the charter to develop a policy, but there isn’t one.”
Speaking in a similar vein, Robert Parker talked about a need for a material change policy, annual financial reporting and public meeting notifications, all of which he said were lacking.
“Right now, with TBD not being in compliance with state law, I can’t see how the council, whose taken an oath to follow our laws, can move forward with this,” he said. “We’re out of compliance with the law. You have the documentation in front of you and I can’t see how we can move forward with something where we’re not meeting the law.”
Jane Rebelowski said that there was no need to rush a TBD extension, especially in light of the minimal amount of work that was completed last year and all of the work slated for this year. She urged the council to wait until this year’s construction season is over before making any decision to extend the TBD.
A motion by city councilman Roy Runyon to delay a vote until November on extending the TBD died for a lack of a second. He said he was concerned about a lack of annual financial reporting, the lack of indemnification for TBD board members and inadequate financial controls within the TBD itself.
“I am not satisfied with the work that has been done to date,” Runyon added, noting last year’s limited amount of crack-sealing. “It was the first year we had an opportunity to do some serious work and show the citizens we meant what we said and we failed.”
City Councilman Dino Davis acknowledged some irregularities with the TBD, but supported extending it.
“This is the new normal for operations of cities our size unfortunately,” Davis said, noting a slash in state funding in recent years.
“There is no calvary coming,” he added. “While it’s nice to think we should just be doing maintenance and crack sealing moving forward as fast as we can, we are shoveling against the tide.”
Davis noted that the city is about $5.5 million short in road maintenance funds this year alone. He also said it’s unlikely the state would have provided $746,000 for the Lower Wheaton Way Project if the TBD had not given the project $250,000.
City Councilwoman Leslie Daugs voted against extending the TBD, but agreed that using car tab fees for municipal road maintenance is “the new normal.”
“This is a creative way to fund our city,” Daugs said. “Fifty-five cities in Washington state have benefit districts. The majority of them are $20 car tab fees. This is still a new project for us and we’re still trying to work out the kinks.”
Wheeler, Runyon and Daugs voted against extending the TBD while Davis, Eric Younger, Mike Sullivan and Jerry McDonald all voted yes.