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Council OKs parking tax hike

Lot owners complain, but revenue needed, councilors say.

Commuters will see a substantial parking lot rate increase starting Jan. 1.

The Bainbridge City Council on Wednesday approved a rate hike for the city lot near the ferry terminal, increasing the daily rate from $7.25 to $10.

The council also voted to double the commercial lot tax to 24 percent.

Revenues from the city lot and taxes will fund sidewalk, bike lane, trail and roads improvements.

Parking lot owners and operators fought the proposed tax increase from the start. They left the council meeting fuming.

“Its unfair and discriminatory,” said Jack Maher, representing the Griffiths Trust, which owns lot on Winslow Way. “The tax should be dropped.”

Jack Chamberlin, owner of the Torch Investments lot near the terminal, said the tax disproportionately burdens lot owners who will not benefit from the tax.

“You guys want to raise revenue,” he said before the council’s vote. “You do that all the time. But don’t make us bear the brunt of it.”

Chamberlin said walkers and bikers who will benefit from the tax aren’t paying enough for non-motorized transportation improvements.

“You had to buy a license to operate a bicycle when I was growing up in ’49 in Salt Lake City,” he said. “Now all that’s free. But that’s nonsense. Everybody should pay their fair share.”

Mukilteo and Seatac are the only other Washington cities with taxes specifically targeting parking lots, Maher said.

Few other cities in the U.S. have as high a rate, Maher said.

In Chicago the rate is 16 percent, while Philadelphia charges 15 percent.

San Francisco tops Bainbridge’s new rate by one point, at 25 percent. No Oregon cities have parking lot taxes, he added.

Councilman Bill Knobloch said he understands lot owners’ concerns but said the city is increasingly strapped for cash.

“I realize you feel pointed out,” he said. “But this is one small step we have to raise revenues.”

Coucilman Bob Scales, who proposed the increases last month, agreed with Chamberlin that a broader tax on all roads, trails and sidewalks users would be more fair. But the motor vehicle excise tax, which drew funds from all car owners to fund public transportation and other areas, was shot down with Initiative 695 in 1999.

“This left us in a position of decreasing revenue and increasing demands,” he said.

Scales cited strong support for non-motorized funding on the island, referring to a city poll that showed about 70 percent of residents are willing to pay more in taxes and fees for bike lanes and sidewalks.

The council also voted to increase the city lot’s night rate from $4 to $5.

The city will later decide on fee changes for monthly parking passes and carpool spots at the city lot.

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