Snohomish asks voters to renew sales tax for transportation

Money would pay for overlays and intersection fixes. Foes say city has money and tax no longer needed

SNOHOMISH — A decade ago, Snohomish voters agreed to increase the city’s sales tax and use the money generated to repair streets and build specific transportation improvements.

Now, the city is asking voters to renew that tax for another decade.

Proposition 1 on the Aug. 3 primary ballot would keep in place the 0.2% sales tax which amounts to a dime on a $50 taxable purchase. Those dimes add up, with collections totalling $8.2 million as of March.

Those dollars have covered the cost of filling potholes and doing street overlays. Some also have been used to construct a roundabout at 15th Avenue and Avenue D — a project the city promised to voters in the 2011 ballot measure.

And the city continues to leverage portions of collections to secure larger state and federal grants. When the year began, the city had roughly $5 million available — though the number will soon dip as the council recently approved a pair of sizable overlay projects.

Supporters of Proposition 1 — which include the mayor and city council — say there is a continued need for this dedicated stream of revenue.

If the measure passes, the city estimates it will bring in $1.2 million a year starting Jan. 1, 2022. This increase would be in place for another decade.

In addition to paying for preserving and repairing streets with overlays, the city is pledging to use a portion of future collections to improve two intersections.

One of those is Pine Avenue and Second Street where the traffic signal — which now hangs from wires — would be upgraded and the lights timed with other signals on Second Street. The other targeted intersection improvement is for the area of 19th Street and Bickford Avenue.

“I think this has been really good for our town,” said Paul Kaftanski, a former city councilmember who wrote the argument in favor of the measure in the local voters’ pamphlet. “If we have to fund all these projects on our own, we’d be broke.”

Kaftanski also wrote the argument in favor of the measure in 2011. At that time, he said the public’s demand for services outpaced the revenues collected by the city to provide them.

State law allowed the city to form a Transportation Benefit District and impose a local car tab fee to fund improvements within the district.

But the Snohomish City Council chose not to go that route. Instead, it let voters decide whether to form a district and increase taxes by two cents on a $10 purchase to keep the streets in working order, Kaftankski recalled.

“Now, we’re given the choice again to decide if we want to do this or not,” he said. “I really hope our residents see the value of having this funding source.”

Not all do.

“There’s no need to extend this tax any more. It is just unnecessary because the city has the money to do these projects,” said Morgan Davis, who co-authored the argument against Proposition 1 in the pamphlet.

Davis noted that much of the collected taxes has yet to be spent. On top of that, he said, the city is getting a chunk of federal funds for COVID relief and could get more federal aid for transportation if the much-discussed infrastructure bill passes in Congress.

In other words, he said, the city is rolling in dough.

“The taxpayer should not be a bottomless pit for this,” he said. “They can always put the transportation benefit district tax back on the ballot if it is needed.”

Jerry Cornfield: jcornfield@heraldnet.com; @dospueblos

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