Community Transit wants sales tax increase for improved bus service

EVERETT — Community Transit will ask voters Nov. 3 to approve a sales tax increase that will allow it to expand services across Snohomish County.

The transit agency’s board of directors approved a ballot measure Thursday that, if approved by voters, would increase sales tax by 0.3 percent, or 3 cents for every $10 spent in all jurisdictions served by the agency.

The tax increase needs a simple majority of the vote to pass.

Community Transit runs buses, the Swift bus rapid transit line and paratransit services in most of Snohomish County. The city of Everett is not within the service area and would not see the rise in sales tax.

That increase would raise Community Transit’s share of sales taxes from 0.9 percent to 1.2 percent, and would yield approximately $25 million per year in additional revenue going forward.

“We’ll use that $25 million to put buses on the ground,” said Emmett Heath, Community Transit’s CEO.

About one third of the funding will be used for maintaining and improving the performance of the agency’s current system, including running more local bus trips and expanding hours of service every day, Heath said.

Another third will go toward establishing a second Swift bus rapid transit line between the Boeing plant at Paine Field and Canyon Park in Bothell.

The final third will be used to establish new routes, including commuter trips to downtown Seattle and the University of Washington, more connections between the I-5 corridor and eastern Snohomish County, more routes to job, housing and educational centers in the county such as Arlington, Stanwood and Monroe, and new routes along Highway 9 between Marysville and Snohomish.

In addition, local bus service will be reconfigured so that it feeds into Sound Transit’s light rail line when it arrives in Snohomish County in 2023, Heath said.

Heath added that the recurring revenue from the tax increase will be used to apply for federal grant money to build the capital facilities to support the second Swift line, such as the new stops along the route.

Community Transit plans to soon start work on other facilities with funding the Legislature approved this year. Those include a new park and ride lot in Mukilteo and a new transit center on Seaway Boulevard across from the main Boeing gate.

Community Transit has not asked voters for a sales tax increase since 2001, and that was to fill the hole left by Initiative 695, which capped car tab fees at $30. The initiative was overturned in court, but the legislature then enacted the tax cut anyway.

The fallout from I-695 led to a 30 percent cut in Community Transit’s revenue, Heath said, requiring the agency to ask for a sales tax increase to make up the difference.

“That tax increase did not quite make us whole for the motor vehicle excise tax that we lost,” Heath said.

The last time Community Transit received a tax increase for expanding services was in 1990, Heath said.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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