Auburn’s proposed car tab fee parked, for now

Given that its 120-day tabling of the motion for the $20 car tab fee was set to expire this week, Auburn’s Transportation Benefit District met Monday to decide whether to implement the fee or table it again.

After a brief meeting, the four members of the TBD who answered the roll call – Claude DaCorsi was at a meeting in Vancouver, B.C., but participated by phone – reset the clock for another 120 days.

Had the TBD not met, or had the panel dropped below the four members required to take action and DaCorsi not agreed to phone in, the car tab would have gone into effect automatically on Thursday, June 22.

Physically absent were Bill Peloza, who was at a national meeting in Ohio, DaCorsi, Yolanda Trout-Manuel, who was at a rescheduled doctor’s appointment, and Deputy Mayor Largo Wales, a vocal opponent of the car tab fee, who offered no explanation to her colleagues for why she wasn’t there.

John Holman, who has made public his support for implementing the car tab fee, on Tuesday explained why he nevertheless voted for an additional 120 days and why Wales’ absence troubled him so much.

“I met with a Washington state Senator early this year, seeking road money. I was told in no uncertain terms not to come looking for state money when we had left local money on the table. It’s pretty clear to me that the state has their own economic woes and (is) not overly concerned about failing roads in Auburn. But, nonetheless, a majority of my colleagues wanted some time to look for other revenue streams, and I wish to honor that desire. What I don’t understand is the message Largo is sending, and the way in which she is going about it,” Holman said.

In 2005, when lawmakers in Olympia made transportation benefit districts possible in Washington state, they authorized them to impose license tab fees for street and road improvements within their jurisdictions without a public vote.

So on Dec. 13, 2016, when the TBD voted 6 to 1 to establish a tab fee on car owners within the city of Auburn, it acted under that authority.

Soon, however, Auburn residents began sending email and other messages to members of the TBD, expressing their displeasure, and their hot resentment at the state law that allows a TBD to impose a car tab fee without a public vote.

Responding to the heat, the TBD on Feb. 22, 2017 tabled further action on the car tab fee, that is, delayed sending it to Olympia to make it official.

The problem confronting City leaders is that streets and roads still need maintenance and repair, and there’s not enough money in the street and road fund at the moment to make it happen.

Earlier this year the city set up a committee composed of four members of the council to work with City Finance Director Shelley Coleman to scout alternative funding for the $800,000 year the TBD estimated would flow in annually from the car tab fee. That committee has yet to deliver its report.

Rich Wagner, a member of the Transportation Policy Board of the Puget Sound Regional Council, recounted how at its last meeting members talked about national strategies for funding transportation projects in general.

“I was pleased to see that that group seems to be sympathetic to a street maintenance utility, which I have championed for a long time, but Olympia has not allowed us to have,” Wagner said. “However, now that the Transportation Policy Board is beginning to find some value in a street maintenance utility, I think that might happen, and that would actually get us enough money to do the job, whereas the $800,000 we would get from a $20 tab is only about 20 percent of what we really need every year to do the work we need to do.”

A street maintenance utility fee is a charge residents and businesses would pay on their monthly utility bill for funding transportation projects.

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