Thurston County Commission takes another vote on special taxing district

Concerned that an earlier action was unclear, the Thurston County Commissioners voted Tuesday morning to create a new taxing district to fund transportation projects.

The Transportation Benefit District, which will be made up of the unincorporated areas of the county, is designed to raise money to support road, bridge, sidewalk, trail and other projects in the rural areas.

The County Commission approved creation of the district on Dec. 9, however, some staff members felt the previous motion contained unclear wording, according to county manager Cliff Moore. That’s why the commission took up the issue again this week at a special meeting. The county commissioners will serve as the new district’s board of directors.

Washington law permits cities and counties to create local Transportation Benefit Districts to help raise money for transit and transportation infrastructure. The most common funding mechanism is through $20 vehicle tab fees that do not have to be approved by voters. Some districts are funded through a special sales tax.

If Thurston County decides to raise the money with $20 vehicle tab fees, it could raise about $1.8 million a year for projects, county officials say. But county officials say the district’s funding source will be decided at a later date.

“Commissioners also expressed their intent to pursue a robust community outreach program in early 2015 to get input and opinions from county residents on district revenue options, project priorities and selection criteria, and ideas and feedback on projects in their neighborhood,” a county news release stated. “Developing a county outreach plan will also be one of the first items the new district’s board of directors will tackle in the new year.”

About 70 cities and counties in the state have created Transportation Benefit Districts. Olympia City Council created one in 2009, and Tumwater City Council approved an ordinance to create one in September.