Tax would expand IT service

OLYMPIA - Intercity Transit is asking voters to raise the sales tax they pay by two-tenths of a cent on every dollar to prevent cuts to bus service and allow for a small service increase.

The transit agency is considering cuts because its sales-tax revenues – which made up 76.6 percent of its budget last year – have taken a major hit in the economic downturn. Costs were higher than revenue last year, and unless new money is found or cuts are made, the agency will drain its reserve and enter the red, officials say.

“Even though this is a difficult time, this is an essential service and not one that should be reduced,” said Karen Messmer, a former Olympia City Council member.

The measure affects people in Intercity Transit’s 94-square-mile service area, which covers Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater, Yelm and portions of Thurston County.

Intercity Transit taxes six-tenths of a cent on the dollar, and state law allows it to tax up to nine-tenths of a cent. The measure, which changes the rate to eight-tenths of a cent, is expected to generate an additional $500,000 in revenue each year.

The agency says that if the measure succeeds, it likely will increase service between The Evergreen State College and downtown Olympia on Route 41 and on routes 68 and 603, among South Sound cities.

If the measure fails, the transit agency will have to cut service by 23 percent, agency officials say. The first round of cuts would happen in February and likely would include the elimination of the Dash shuttle, which is three buses that provide free service between the state Capitol Campus and the Olympia Farmers Market.

Also on the chopping block is Route 42, from South Puget Sound Community College and Thurston County Family and Juvenile Court in Tumwater. Service could be reduced on other lines, including 13, 41, 94 and 620.

A second round of cuts would happen in 2012 and could include the elimination of Sunday service and Route 67, from Tri Lake to Lacey.

There is no organized opposition to the tax increase. The Olympia City Council endorsed it.

Councilman Stephen Buxbaum argued to keep the Dash service.

“I hear regularly from businesses in downtown Olympia how critical that service is,” he said.

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@theolympian.com