Voters will face $40-per-vehicle fee hike to fund road, sidewalk projects

The Edmonds City Council on Tuesday night decided by a 4-3 vote to place a proposal on the November general election ballot that would fund 37 separate city traffic safety, congestion and pedestrian improvements — using a $40-per-vehicle increase in licensing fees assessed to Edmonds residents.

The proposal to place the measure on the ballot, which would increase the per-vehicle fee that the Edmonds Transportation Benefit District now collects from $20 to $60, was supported by Councilmembers Strom Peterson, Diane Buckshnis, Adrienne Fraley-Monillas and Steve Bernheim and opposed by D.J. Wilson, Lora Petso and Michael Plunkett.

A list of proposed transportation projects this fee increase would fund can be found here.

Wilson said he opposed the fee increase because it is a “regressive tax” that hits low-income people harder, and also because it demonstrates a lack of accountability on the part of elected officials since they failed prioritize any of the 37 projects on the list. “In these economic times, we need to be very focused in our pitch to citizens,” Wilson said. He also called it another example of the council “fiddling while Rome is burning,” by placing this measure on the ballot prior to making a decision on levy to address the looming deficit in the city’s general fund.  “I will oppose it tonight and campaign vigorously against it in the fall,” Wilson said.

Bernheim disagreed with Wilson’s characterization of the fee as regressive. ” We’re only talking about $40 a year and we’re only talking about taxing people who can already afford taxes and insurance in the first place,” Bernheim said.

Buckshnis pointed out that many of the 37 projects would address pedestrian improvements, a key request she has heard from citizens during recent town hall meetings.

In other action, the council:

– Voted 6-1 (Petso opposed) to approve an Edmonds Economic Development Commission recommendation to partner with the University of Washington Green Futures Lab to create green development projects in the Westgate and Five Corners neighborhoods. The $40,000 project cost will be funded through savings in the city’s professional development budget. The hope is to create a template for sustainable development projects that can be replicated in other neighborhoods.

– Approved the 2010 Water System Comprehensive Plan Update by a vote of 6-1 (Plunkett opposed).

– Voted unanimously to approve the Edmonds Planning Board’s recommendation to increase the number of permitted permanent signs in business and commercial zones.

– Heard a presentation by officials from Stevens Hospital and Swedish Medical Center about the pending affiliation between the  two entities, and passed a resolution supporting the new organization, which will be known as Swedish Edmonds.

  1. Thank you D. J. Wilson, very well said, regressive tax indeed. How can we ask people to spend $65,000,000. in times like these?

  2. We already have a $20 per vehicle fee. What are the priorities for the current $20 fee and how has it been used? DJ Wilson said “they (elected officials) failed to prioritize any of the 37 projects on the list.” If none of these projects are priorities, does that mean none of them are urgent? What happens if the fee increase doesn’t pass? Will the Levy Committee have to wait until this tax is either passed or failed to determine if any of these improvements are included in the general budget, thereby complicating and delaying their work? Are we going to start piecemealing the budget with individual taxes? This is a list of $65 million and obviously won’t be collected in one year. How much will $40 per year bring? I read earlier of a discussion about a round about at Five Corners. If I don’t want a round about will voting no either delay or eliminate this idea? Will the effort to educate the public on the need and use of this fee be distracting from the overall need to educate the public about the need for a levy? If this fee passes, might the public think that one tax increase is enough and thereby vote no on the levy?

  3. I am voting for the fee because it will lead to better traffic flow and better pedestrian safety, and its money that is guaranteed to go to transportation and can’t be spent elsewhere.

  4. The useage of the $168K already collected is buried in the Council Minutes of March 23, 2010. What it was used for is difficult to deternine based on the “Annual Reoprt”. The City bills the TBD for work done. The TBD is seeking to expand their powers to include imporvements. Originally it was for maintenence. There were problems collecting the money from DOL, and we pay 1% of the fees to the DOL for that collection. The collection was also less than it was estimated to have been.
    The TBD was adopted as a device (without a vote of the citizenry) to take the streets out of the City’s budget. The TBD is the City Council. It is the City Council acting as a separate body with taxing authority.
    “It’s only $40” “It’s only a cup of coffee a month” “Anyone who can afford to drive can afford to pay this”…from the same group that raised water/sewer rates 7.5% per year . The same group of the Council was willing to spend $1.1 on the Skipper’s property (except Mr. Peterson).
    And I do like apple pie, am not advocating for tall buildings, am in favor of the voting process, and am a negative person (negative means that if I oppose whatever the Council members want I am negative). On this issue, I am a very negative person.
    I am glad this will go to a vote of the folks in Edmonds. It is a very unfair, and excessive fee. I trust the voters to see this for what it is.
    Thanks to Mr. Wilson, Ms. Petso, and Mr. Plunkett for their vote against this.

  5. Once more our city council demonstrates their intent to fund city priorities by tax increases, levies, and (most alarmingly) emptying reserve city funds down to zero to avoid taking a stand on levies.

    Our city’s deficit is the end result of past (and present) city council notion of ‘bedroom community’ economic planning.

  6. The problem with new taxes/fees/charges is that they are always presented as being ‘only’ a small amount, in this case ‘only’ $40. This pitch fails to recognize the total tax bill levied from federal, state and local governments and special authorities like the TBD. The $40 would be added to the current total per person in Edmonds, and at some point it hurts. Taking another bit of money out of our paychecks can only go so far, regardless of proposed benefits. Yep let the citizens decide and let’s quit misrepresenting new taxes as ‘only’ a little thing.

  7. Why are people so afraid of taxes? We need services, and they’re not free. Taxes give us the opportunity to pool our resources to enhance the quality of life for all. I totally support this proposition and encourage my fellow citizens to do the same.

  8. Hi Bruce – I am not afraid of taxes – I LOVE taxes! They are my bread & butter as well as everything else I eat. I don’t know if I support this one yet but for Bernheim to say the tax is not regressive, I suggest he pull out a dictionary. If the tax was based on vehicle value then it would be progressive not regressive. A flat tax is very regressive. Look it up, Steve. Also, if it was based on value we would be able to deduct that amount from our federal taxable income like we can with the RTA excise taxes. These other fees here & there are not deductible.

  9. I will support this ballot measure after my persistent question on the highly speculative fiber optics program has been answered, and not before!

    I was told the total cost was about 330K last fall. but did it include employee, legal and misc. expenses? Probably not, which included would probably shoot it up over 1/2 mil.

    The promises- break even 2009 & a plus factor 2010- both false.

    Our former Mayor directed the Budget director to determine the viability of fiber optics; whether to continue or not. And where is that report? Has it been stashed away in a secret/private file somewhere or does it even exist?

    Its far easier to levy a new tax than it is to admit a failure and accept an almost certain loss for this pie in the sky project. Obsolescense will likely scuttle it sooner than later, and the sooner the better for us taxpayers.

    The Council must cut costs first, cull out the losers (or non producers), and raise taxes LAST.

  10. Ray:

    I totally agree with your last paragraph, but you are wrong about the fiber optics initiative being a failure. Attend the August 24th council meeting to hear a comprehensive review of this program.

  11. I worked as a Legal Services Attorney for almost 10 years representing the poor and disabled who live on minimal and fixed incomes — people who live at or under the poverty level. In 2005, the last year I was a Legal Services Attorney, a person living on disability received approximately $546 a month. That number goes up a little bit, if the person has dependents. But, not much.

    Councilmembers Strom Peterson, Diane Buckshnis, Adrienne Fraley-Monillas and Steve Bernheim, the extra $40 flat tax is a regressive tax. That means that is costs a poor person more to drive. An extra $40 expense could mean the poor and disabled lose their cars. For the poor, this could mean the loss of a job. For the disabled, this could mean the loss of independence. It is not “only $40”.

    You represent all of the community; Not just the people who vote or live in YOUR neighborhood or give you campaign donations. I am truly saddened at your short sightedness on this issue. Please educate yourselves on the issues of the poor. I am happy to give you my insight. You know how to get a hold of me.

    I know that the City does not money and a levy or other additional taxes are needed. But, if you are going to raise our taxes, do it the right way. I will not be voting for a the $40 regressive tax. And, I will actively campaign against it.

  12. Last paragraph above should read:

    I know that the City needs money and a levy or other additional taxes are needed. But, if you are going to raise our taxes, do it the right way. I will not be voting for a the $40 regressive tax. And, I will actively campaign against it.

  13. Priya
    I tried to make that case before the Council, and have been actively discussing the issue with the ones who are for it. Mr. Peterson gets it, but voted for it anyway. The others just don’t seem to understand that there are folks in Edmonds who gave up fancy coffee years ago or never could afford it in the first place.
    If you watched the council meeting Bernhiem said “it is just $40”. (It is $40 more) It doesn’t get much more stark than that. They simply don’t care and won’t be swayed by concern for folks who cannot afford (in a very real way) these fees.
    Buckshnis. Bernheim Peterson an Monillas….are responsible for this! Petso, Wilson and Plunkett opposed this and are to be commended. The vote was decided before the hearing this week, is what I was told. I will be happy help you in anyway actively fight this arrogant insensitive stupidity on the Council’s part.

  14. Diane T.

    I am working from home today. Are you available for coffee? My cell is 425.231.4749. I promise I will not give away your identity.


  15. I can only hope that the savings in the professional development budget does not mean the elimination of developing talent. Cutting a budget should not mean eliminating the need to keep employees engaged by developing their skill set. There are lots of low cost high value options out there; some in the $40 price range. Seek them out.

  16. It’s very hard to believe that the Council wants to extract another $65 million from Edmonds residents to fund a slate of road projects that does not appear to separate the “nice-to-haves” from the “must-haves.” In fact, I can’t tell that any of these 37 initiatives are “must-haves,” but some of them certainly aren’t: $29,717 for bicycle loop signing? $674,386 for a walkway on Maplewood Avenue? Nine or ten unspecified “intersection mprovements” totaling nearly $20 million? How much pain are those intersections causing as they are? And is it worth this price to address it right now?

    Edmonds isn’t going to collapse if we red-line at least some of this package. At a time like this, I think the city should go through the process that’s going on around most of the kitchen tables in America: asking how cheaply we can by and what we can do without. This package doesn’t look critical to me. It looks like a family planning a Meditteranean cruise as it wonders how to pay the mortgage.

    It is crashingly insensitive to dismiss the tab as “only $40” when more than a few Edmonds residents spend that on a week’s worth of groceries.

    The problem with putting these levies to the voters in piecemeal fashion is lack of context given all the other outlays in play. Road improvements are a good thing, but these projects? At this time? Alongside all the other needs? No. Do I think a Meditteranean cruise would be a good thing? Absolutely yes. Given all the other bills on the kitchen table, especially taxes, are we pulling the cruise trigger? Absolutely not.

    So let’s not do this.

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