Lacey voters step up to boost road repairs

With the daily pounding from heavy commercial traffic, Hogum Bay Road Northeast is one arterial the city of Lacey has designated as needing repair.
With the daily pounding from heavy commercial traffic, Hogum Bay Road Northeast is one arterial the city of Lacey has designated as needing repair. sbloom@theolympian.com

Many Washington cities and counties have been filling holes in their road budgets ever since the Great Recession. Lacey voters’ passage of a small sales-tax increase Tuesday night was only the latest response to the need.

The Lacey vote was decisive, too. Preliminary vote counts showed more than 62 percent supported the 0.2-penny increase in sales tax to pay for pavement and sidewalk repairs.

The tax takes effect in July and stays in place for 10 years, hoisting the state and local sales-tax rate in Lacey to 8.9 percent, according to Scott Spence, city manager. The new rate equals what Tumwater voters approved in 2015 for similar purposes.

What is notable about the Lacey and Tumwater measures is that voters in both communities proved willing to reach into their own pockets to pony up.

Lacey leaders pitched the tax as a simple choice: pay less for road resurfacing today or pay more at a later date when repairs are costlier.

City staffers estimate that the tax will bring in $1.6 million to $1.8 million a year, including taxes collected from non-residents who shop in the city. Voters clearly trust that this money, which must be spent in the new city transportation benefit district, will be used wisely.

The Olympia City Council took a different approach from either Lacey or Tumwater. The council enacted two $20 car-tab fees without a vote of the public.

Thurston County commissioners face a similar challenge to keep up county roads. A $20 car-tab fee was considered by the commission last year, but no action was taken before the election that added two new commissioners.

During the campaign, at least one of the new conservative commissioners, John Hutchings, expressed a preference for a sales tax.

The Lacey vote should encourage commissioners to get out fresh scratch pads.

One meal ticket enough for senator

State Sen. Doug Ericksen is giving new meaning to the word moonlighting. The Ferndale Republican has been commuting between Washington, D.C., and Olympia since taking a temporary communications position with the Environmental Protection Agency under new President Trump.

Ericksen says he can manage the legislative and PR jobs at the same time. Certainly it’s a nice gesture that he is not taking daily expense money from the state of Washington while racking up air miles.

But it’s hard to imagine that Ericksen is earning his keep at either job. Instead of holding two government jobs, he should make a decision: One job or two much smaller paychecks.

Ericksen is known not just for obstructing environmental protection bills. He also has displayed a sense of entitlement and has been in a cozy relationship with oil industry lobbyists. He (and others) accepted so many free meals from lobbyists a few years ago that the Legislative Ethics Board had to enact a 12-meal yearly cap on freebies.

Voters in Ericksen’s rural Whatcom County district are not amused; some are launching a recall effort.

Ericksen should keep his head in only one trough at a time. How he does it is up to him.

Tiny houses evolving into big idea

The Quixote Village that provides cottages to formerly homeless individuals in Thurston County has a lot going for it, and others are wanting to copy the idea.

This is encouraging news. The 30 tiny houses are at the Mottman Industrial Park in northeast Tumwater, and they form a community where residents must adopt a sober lifestyle. Mail boxes, showers, a kitchen, laundry and access to social services are part of the package.

Panza, the nonprofit that created the village in 2013, has begun working with the Puget Sound Veterans Hope Center on a project that could assist veterans in Pierce County who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. The village would be located at the Washington Soldiers Home and Colony in Orting.

An effort is under way to find a third site in Shelton. This too could have a veterans focus.

Innovative projects that help homeless people get out of the woods and into stable housing make a lot of sense. Linking this kind of housing to services such as mental health care and drug-treatment programs is smart, though it can be costly.

Quixote Village was built for $3.1 million; the Orting project may run $3.8 million. The Orting advocates plan to ask the Washington State Housing Trust Fund for assistance.

Backers can help their case by presenting data showing the real costs and benefits of such a program.