Council considers island vehicle tax

The Bainbridge Island City Council will consider a new method to fund its ailing roads.

A vehicle excise tax.

Councilwoman Anne Blair would like the city to form a transportation benefit district, a move that if adopted would translate into higher license tab fees for vehicle owners. The council will get a first touch on the option to form a district at its meeting Wednesday.

If Bainbridge Island is able to form such a district, a vehicle licensing fee would be established for each registered island car. The money gained would go to pay for road maintenance and repairs.

"All of us who ran (for city council) heard loud and clear that dealing with our long-delayed road problems is a super high priority," Blair said. "We need to identify additional funding."

The idea for a transportation benefit district is nothing new. A tax on island vehicles has been tossed around before. Former Councilman Barry Peters spoke of it often, but it never got any traction. The idea may be picking up speed now, however.

Blair brought up the notion of forming an island transportation benefit district at the council's recent retreat on Sunday, July 22.

Funding for roads maintenance has been slim.

This year, contracts were awarded to two contractors for asphalt and chip seal repair of roads for $334,097 and $218,511. Last year, there was no funding for roads at all.

At the retreat, Blair's fellow council members expressed support of at least talking about the district, but when Blair said she wanted to get it formed by the end of August, she was met with disbelief.

"Everybody laughed about it," Blair said. "I was not kidding."

But when faced with the reality of the situation, the council changed its tune.

If the council decides to support a transportation benefit district, they must move quickly.

Kitsap County has been looking at the possibility of forming its own transportation benefit district, one which would include Bainbridge Island. If the county beats the city in forming a district, the city would not be able to direct how the tax money is managed and couldn't subsequently form its own district.

"If the county were to establish a transportation benefit district, then they get to take the money and say how much of it we get," Blair said.

But if the council is able to establish their own district, the city gets the whole pot of revenues.

"We'd like to keep our own money at home," Blair said.

It therefore is not an issue of if a district is formed, but rather, who and when, city officials said.

"It's not a matter of when it happens," said Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos, who also supports the idea. "It's who gets the money."

Blair noted that the city of Bremerton has formed its own transportation benefit district. She said that she will point to Bremerton's district as an example for Bainbridge Island.

Bremerton passed a resolution to form a transportation benefit district in December 2011.

A $20 licensing fee was established for vehicles registered in the city.

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