A special election April 28 will ask Tumwater residents to raise their taxes in the name of roads.
If approved, Proposition 1 will increase the local sales tax by 0.2 percent for 10 years. The city reports the tax would generate an extra $812,000 a year.
The ballot measure needs a simple majority (50 percent plus one yes votes) to pass. If approved, Tumwater would have the highest sales tax among Thurston County cities with a rate of 8.9 percent on every dollar spent. Olympia’s rate is 8.8 percent, and Lacey’s rate is 8.7 percent, according to the Department of Revenue.
The money would go toward preserving and repairing primary arterial roads, such as Capitol Boulevard, along with curb and crosswalk upgrades.
Many of Tumwater’s main roads show common signs of deterioration — such as potholes and deep interlaced cracking patterns — caused by traffic, weather and utility work.
“That whole Capitol corridor is kind of in bad shape,” Councilman Ed Hildreth said. “There’s no doubt Tumwater needs to work on the roads and get those back up to where they should be.”
Other priority streets for paving include portions of Custer Way, Trosper Road, Oly Highway 99 and 29th Avenue. Streets marked for chip sealing — a cheaper alternative to resurfacing — include sections of Kirsop Road, Black Lake Boulevard, Cleveland Avenue, Israel Road and Linderson Way. The city’s website includes a list of priority streets and a map that rates pavement conditions across Tumwater.
According to the city, the tax will help make up for rising costs of road maintenance as well as a reduction in state and federal grants. The money can only go toward transportation projects, but excludes smaller neighborhood streets.
“It’s cheaper to preserve streets than it is to rebuild them,” said Heidi Behrends Cerniway, assistant city administrator. She noted that the sales tax option is intended to spread the cost among residents and shoppers who use the city’s streets.
In order to pursue the tax, the Tumwater City Council established a Transportation Benefit District last September and later appointed a board of officers. The district gives the city authority to seek public funding for transportation projects.
If Proposition 1 fails at the polls, the board would have other options to raise transportation revenue from residents. The board can impose up to a $20 annual license tab fee without a public vote, or up to a $100 tab fee with a public vote. A $20 tab fee would generate about $280,000 a year, the city reports.
Olympia resident Cameron Wilson wrote the opposition statement to Proposition 1 that will appear in the voters pamphlet. The statement argues that an additional sales tax will have an unfair impact on the city’s poorest families, and instead calls for using existing resources for street maintenance and improvements.
The statement also notes that “your children will still be paying this sales tax with no end in sight.” Although the extra tax would last 10 years if approved, Wilson said he doubts the city will end the tax when the time comes.
“In my experience, rarely do things go backward,” Wilson told The Olympian.
The pro statement for Proposition 1 was submitted by Friends of Tumwater Streets and signed by former Tumwater Mayor Ralph Osgood, Thurston County Treasurer Shawn Myers, and local business owner Jim Tuggle. The group has set up a website (tumwaterstreets.com) with photos of sample projects.
“The cost is small — just 2 cents on a $10 purchase or just $1 on a $500 TV,” the pro statement reads. “With the extensive retail sector in Tumwater, this small sales tax increase would be paid by a majority of the users of our city streets and roads as they drive to Tumwater to shop.”