Ferndale City Council again considering a penny gas tax

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 3, 2014 

FERNDALE - Ferndale residents could vote on whether to pay more at the pump if the City Council approves a penny-per-gallon gas tax measure for the November ballot.

The council could vote on the ballot measure at its meeting Monday, July 7. To get it on the November ballot, the council will have to approve the measure by Aug. 5, City Clerk Sam Taylor said.

If voters approve the tax, money raised would go toward road repairs in the city.

"Most of our roads need millions of dollars in renovations," Taylor said.

This isn't the first time that the City Council has considered adding a citywide 1-cent gasoline tax. The tax has been debated several times over the years, most recently in spring 2013. At that time, council initially approved putting the tax on the ballot, but then-councilman Lloyd Zimmerman moved for a reconsideration, and two council members who had supported putting it on the ballot changed their votes to no.

Jon Mutchler was one of those who changed his vote because he was concerned about the impact on small, locally owned gas stations. Station owners he spoke to had said that even a penny could be difficult to pass along to customers, so the tax likely would be paid by station owners rather than raising prices at the pump.

"Every penny that you raise the price, there's a certain number of customers that will go down the street to Bellingham. I don't know how many, but that's just how it works," Mutchler said. "On the other hand, we need to fix our streets."

At the time, council discussed exempting a portion of gas sales, but Mutchler was worried that if the exemption wasn't written into the ballot measure it could change with the whims of the council.

The measure Mutchler and Councilman Keith Olson put forward this time around includes an exemption for the first 60,000 gallons of gas sold at each station per month. With 10 gas stations in Ferndale, that would add up to $72,000 in taxes the city wouldn't collect.

Ferndale is the only eligible city in Whatcom County that hasn't adopted a border-city gas tax.

The city has had a difficult time assessing how much money the tax could bring in, though Taylor said Blaine's tax brought in about $250,000 in 2013. He thought Ferndale would be similar, possibly raising up to $180,000 after the exempted sales. That money can then be used as a city match when applying for state grants. The transportation benefit district sales tax that voters approved in 2012 has helped the city get $2 million in state grants for local road projects, he said.

Cities are becoming increasingly self-sufficient when it comes to transportation funding, Taylor said. With limited money in the state budget for local projects, Mutchler said he saw the merits of a gas tax so the city could take care of its streets.

"I'm a conservative and I don't like taxes. But as a conservative, they're our streets and we need to fix our streets," Mutchler said. "We need to step up to the plate and find ways to do that locally."

Reach Zoe Fraley at 360-756-2803 or zoe.fraley@bellinghamherald.com.

ATTEND THE MEETING

The Ferndale City Council meeting begins at 6 p.m. Monday, July 7, at the City Hall Annex, 5694 Second Ave.

Reach ZOE FRALEY at zoe.fraley@bellinghamherald.com or call 756-2803.

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