MUKILTEO — City leaders here are the latest to consider forming a transportation benefit district, which would allow them to levy extra fees and taxes to pay for related improvements.
A public hearing is set for 7 p.m. April 3 at City Hall, where public comment will be taken. A vote to form the district is expected to follow. Written comments also can be made through 4:30 p.m. that day; send comments to City Hall, 11930 Cyrus Way, Mukilteo, WA 98275.
The decision follows the yearlong efforts of a Wise Investment in Transportation Taskforce.
“We took a comprehensive look both at our pavement infrastructure and how we invest in making it easier and safer to walk and bike through the community,” Mayor Jennifer Gregerson said. “It’s clear we need to be investing more.”
Should they vote to form a district, City Council members would then spend several weeks deciding how to use its powers.
Transportation benefit districts are quasi-municipal corporations and independent taxing districts that can raise revenue for specific transportation projects.
Mukilteo would put any money it raises toward pavement preservation, as well as improvements aimed at pedestrians. That could include access on the Mukilteo Speedway, filling gaps in sidewalk connections, and other priorities identified in the city’s recently approved By The Way Plan for biking, transit and walking.
In Snohomish County, 10 cities now have transportation benefit districts and use them to raise money. Lake Stevens recently considered forming one but has tabled the idea until fall. Snohomish County formed a transportation benefit district for unincorporated areas in 2011 but has left it unfunded. Bothell formed one in 2015, but opted instead to ask voters last fall for a nine-year property tax levy to fund a Safe Streets and Sidewalks program.
As more cities have formed the districts, it’s become easier to raise money through them.
Statewide, vehicle license fees are the most common funding source. Transportation benefit districts can now levy fees of up to $50 without a vote, and up to $100 with voter approval, according to Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington. Until 2015, the limit was $20 without a vote.
There are some caveats, however. Car tab fees above $20 can only be imposed without a vote if a $20 or a $40 fee has been in effect for at least two years, depending on how high a fee the benefit district seeks.
So far, sales taxes are the most common funding source among Snohomish County cities — and those do require a public vote. Transportation benefit districts can levy a sales-and-use tax of up to 0.2 percent with voter approval.
Lynnwood is one of four cities in the state to leverage both a car tab fee and a sales tax.
There are several other funding options available — such as bonds, impact fees and tolls — but no city has yet to successfully use them.
Typically, transportation benefit districts are separate entities. In recent years, cities have been allowed to absorb the districts into their regular operations if the boundaries match. City governments in Everett, Granite Falls, Marysville, Snohomish and Stanwood have assumed their benefit districts.
Mukilteo has 67 miles of streets.
The special district isn’t the only source of funds Mukilteo is tapping. For example, the city raised business license fees to help pay for pavement preservation work this year. The council decided against raising parking fees.
Should the city form a transportation benefit district, staff have suggested two options for what follows:
Propose a 0.2 percent sales tax increase on the August primary ballot; or
Implement a $20 vehicle license fee and increase by 2 percent the solid waste utility tax, which was last raised in 1993.
Each option could bring in over $1.1 million per year in additional revenue.
There would be further opportunities for public comment should the process move ahead. A public hearing would be held on any funding proposal, likely in May.
Reporter Kari Bray contributed to this story.
Melissa Slager: firstname.lastname@example.org, 425-339-3432.
Transportation benefit districts
The following cities have transportation benefit districts, which allow them to levy special fees and taxes for transportation projects. They are listed by the year they formed.
Edmonds, 2008, $20 vehicle license fee
Everett, 2014, $20 vehicle license fee
Lynnwood, 2010, $40 vehicle license fee and 0.1 percent sales tax
Snohomish, 2010, 0.2 percent sales tax
Mountlake Terrace, 2011, $20 vehicle license fee
Monroe, 2012, 0.2 percent sales tax
Stanwood, 2012, 0.2 percent sales tax
Arlington, 2013, 0.2 percent sales tax
Marysville, 2013, 0.2 percent sales tax
Granite Falls, 2015, $20 vehicle license fee
Source: Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington