Roadwork: after next year, it's up to the voters

The days of cash and carry for city road projects are over, city officials say.

If islanders want to see major road projects after next year, the funding is going to have to come from voter-approved bonds.

The reason: Tim Eyman’s tax-cutting initiatives are taking effect, depriving the city both of state funding and of the ability to raise dollars locally through property taxes.

“Government in Washington had four sources of revenue – property tax, sales tax, business taxes and the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax,” said city finance director Ralph Eells.

“It was a four-legged stool, but the MVET has been cut off, and like most stools with a leg cut off, it is falling.”

Some of the money from the value-based MVET was sent to cities, but that source of funding – some $1.2 million per year for Bainbridge Island – has been lost with the tax’s repeal, first through citizen initiative and then by the Legislature.

Another Eyman-backed initiative limits the growth of property-tax revenue to 1 percent annually, less than the rate of inflation.

The upshot – the city does not anticipate having enough cash flow after 2004 to fund major road projects, and will be forced to rely on state grants or voter-approved bonds.

“Up to this point, we’ve been using cash-as-you-go financing, but these are changing times,” said Councilman Bill Knobloch, who chaired a council committee on capital facilities and issued recommendations and findings this week.

The recommendations will be forwarded to the Bainbridge Planning Commission for review.

The committee plan calls for two major capital projects in 2004 – construction of sidewalks and bike lanes on Madison Avenue north of the roundabout and around the corner along New Brooklyn Road, and the reconstruction of Winslow Way from the highway east to Ericksen.

Cash flow will be sufficient to cover that work.

But after that, major road projects will happen only if new revenue sources can be tapped.

That, Knobloch said, means that some high-cost and high-controversy projects – like rebuilding Winslow Way between Madison and Ericksen, and constructing a downtown parking garage – will likely be put to the ballot.

“There will essentially be voter referendums on those projects,” he said.

Voters might not have the final say on the much-discussed but yet undecided connection of Ericksen through to Hildebrand Lane, though.

“That project doesn’t cost a great deal of money,” Knobloch said.

Next year’s draft spending plan budgets $400,000 for annual road-improvement work; $153,000 for non-motorized “spot improvements” and planning; and some $225,000 for planning the Ericksen-Madison rebuild of Winslow Way, a project that city engineers say is necessitated by failing underground pipes.

The plan includes a number of drainage projects; allots $100,000 for a new “decant” facility to handle street and storm-water wastes, at an undetermined location; and budgets $180,000 for the Manitou Beach salt marsh restoration.

Eells said the financial situation for the next 10 years is going to get worse rather than better barring major changes.

“Unless the state legislature does something, local governments are going to be under severe financial pressure,” he said. “We have a self-inflicted financial disaster in the making.”

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