City takes state authorized TBD under its wing

State lawmakers called transportation benefit districts into being as independent taxing districts to build, improve, provide and fund transportation improvements within their boundaries.

That’s all.

Auburn’s had one since 2011, and even though it is composed of city council members like every other TBD, when those elected officials are up there, they do not, so to speak, wear the hats of council members but the top pieces of members of the TBD.

“It can be confusing,” Auburn City Council member Claude DaCorsi said recently.

On Monday evening, without disagreement or a single public comment, the city council took the TBD under the municipal wing.

To make it happen, the city took advantage of a 2015 change in state law that allows city councils to assume the rights, powers, duties, immunities and obligations of a TBD.

Here’s what changes:

• The TBD will no longer exist as a separate legal and financial entity;

• TBD and council meetings will no longer be separate;

• Financial reporting will be incorporated into the city’s annual report; and

• The issuance of debt for projects will limited to the city’s existing, unused debt capacity, although neither the city nor the TBD has the funding capacity to leverage the full debt capacity that the law allows.

It’s a fair bet that many Auburn residents didn’t even know they had a TBD before Dec. 13, 2016.

But on that date, Auburn’s TBD, taking note of a critical shortage of money to fund city transportation projects, approved a resolution that green-lighted an annual $20 vehicle license fee for qualifying vehicles in the district.

On Sept. 19, 2017, aware that many city residents strongly disliked its action of the previous December, Auburn’ TBD suspended the resolution. To date, as Council member John Holman said before the unanimous vote, the board has never imposed any vehicle license fees at all.

“We’ve had a separate transportation benefit district for nine, 10 years, and it’s been composed of the Auburn City Council. We’ve enacted no taxing authority, and so it’s probably time,” Holman said.

In other action:

• The city council established the property tax levy for 2020 for general city purposes at $22.4 million.

“That is the 1 percent that we are capped for property tax increases, in addition to new construction,” Mayor Nancy Backus said.

Finance Director Jamie Thomas recently estimated the levy rate per thousand of assessed value for 2020 will be about $1.81, a decrease over the 2019 levy rate of $1.92 per thousand.

Because King County will not finalize Auburn’s assessed valuation, new construction and refund levies until the beginning of January, the city will use preliminary information from King County to make its determination.

King County has preliminarily established the 2020 assessed valuation – including estimated new construction for the city of Auburn – at $12.3 billion, which is an 8.1 percent increase over the 2019 level of $11.414 billion. The total 2020 property tax levy will be distributed to the general fund to support general governmental operations.

Thomas said the city will hold another public hearing on the mid-biennial budget adjustment – the 2020 portion of the biennial budget – and adopt the year-end adjustment at 7 p.m., Dec. 2.

• Authorized an agreement with the Auburn Symphony Orchestra, providing the orchestra with $75,000 for marketing and outreach services.

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