City transportation funding measure goes to voters

By Ryan Wynne

Whatcom Transportation Authority (WTA) has been scaled back. Street paving, crosswalk and bike lane projects have been put on hold — such is the recession. But the city of Bellingham has a plan that could generate funding for those projects and restore some bus service in the city.

The City Council, acting as the city’s transportation benefit district (TBD) board, voted on Aug. 9 to put a measure on the November ballot asking voters to approve an increase of Bellingham’s sales and use tax by up to 2 cents per $10 of taxable items. The city estimates that the increase would generate up to $4 million annually for street overlay, transit and non-motorized transportation projects.

“We can restore essential services for about $1 per month for your typical Bellingham resident,” said Bellingham City Councilman Michael Lilliquist.

That assumes the average resident spends $500 per month on taxable items.

Lilliquist voted in favor of both forming the transportation benefit district, a special citywide taxing district, and putting the funding mechanism for it on the ballot. Projects the TBD would fund are not only in line with the city’s comprehensive plan, he said, but residents are reliant on the WTA, paved roads, crosswalks and bike lanes. Also, waiting to repair them would likely cost the city more in the future.

“Even when your budget is tight, you fix a leaking roof because you know it will cost you more in the long run if you don’t,” Lilliquist said.

That’s not a perspective that everyone shares, though. Brett Bonner, who led an earlier campaign to oppose a countywide levy to maintain WTA service, is now urging Bellingham voters to oppose the TBD measure.

Bonner is the spokesperson for the Whatcom Information Center, which sent out a press release Sept. 16 saying TBD projects are part of a city wish list and urging the city to spend within its means, especially at this time when so many residents are struggling financially.

Even if the measure does pass, it’s unknown at this point whether the WTA board will allow TBD funds to be spent strictly on Bellingham bus service.

Mel Hansen, WTA board chairman and Ferndale City Council member, said the funding issue has already created tension in the county and he doesn’t know how receptive the board would be.

“Just because the transportation district puts together the funds, it’s still up to the WTA board whether the WTA will accept those funds and under what circumstances,” Hansen said.

Lilliquist said the TBD board would work with the WTA to reach a mutual agreement and that the funds wouldn’t be used just for WTA service, but for other important city transportation projects, too.

6 thoughts on “City transportation funding measure goes to voters

  1. When in a recession, don’t raise taxes … cut expenses. Reduce government wages across the board by 5-10% while a recession is underway. That is what companies and households have to do.

    1. The city has been cutting expenses, $30 million over that last two years, including millions from the street fund and capital projects. The number of city employees is down by over 10%, and fund reserves are being drawn down (although still above minimums as set by financial policy).
      We create our own opportunities as a community by taking care of our public assets. The citizen-led Capital Facilities Task Force recently placed resurfacing of existing streets at the top of the city’s capital priorities, with non-motorized transportation projects also making the list of prioritized projects. That’s putting in crosswalks, filling in gaps in sidewalks, and adding bicycle facilities for healthier and safer neighborhoods and for our schoolchildren.
      This is not a fix for WTA, far from it. But it does allow Bellingham residents to provide for ourselves, while WTA looks for a long-term, countywide solution.

    2. The city has been cutting expenses, $30 million over that last two years, including millions from the street fund and capital projects. The number of city employees is down by over 10%, and fund reserves are being drawn down (although still above minimums as set by financial policy).
      We create our own opportunities as a community by taking care of our public assets. The citizen-led Capital Facilities Task Force recently placed resurfacing of existing streets at the top of the city’s capital priorities, with non-motorized transportation projects also making the list of prioritized projects. That’s putting in crosswalks, filling in gaps in sidewalks, and adding bicycle facilities for healthier and safer neighborhoods and for our schoolchildren.
      This is not a fix for WTA, far from it. But it does allow Bellingham residents to provide for ourselves, while WTA looks for a long-term, countywide solution.

  2. Taxes should not be raised during a recesssion…cut expenses. Government employees should cut salaries, wages by 5-10% like any business to balance accounts, during the downturn.

    1. Vote for Proposition #1. Beware of non-Belllingham residents telling us how to vote. When someone doesn’t say who they are and where they live you can bet they are not interested in what’s best for those of us who do live in Bellingham. Bellingham voters should listen to their real city leaders who say Proposition #1 is desperately needed. My name is Wes Frysztacki. I live in Bellingham. I’m voting for Proposition #1.

  3. Because of the WTA cuts, poor working people are no longer able to ride the bus to work – which was their only option. We don’t need this kind of help from Brett Bonner. . . local voters can make up their own minds.

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