Transit back for a second levy tryBallots are in the mail for a three-tenths of one cent sales tax hike.

"If county voters approve a sales-tax hike for Kitsap Transit next month, fares will drop, service will improve and maybe that mad dash off the ferry will become a thing of the past. If they turn it down, though, the transit district lines may be redrawn to exclude parts of the county, and service in the excluded area will be sharply diminished. You do have people running off the ferries now during the commuter period to get a seat on the bus, said Kitsap Transit Executive Director Dick Hayes.If the levy passes, we will be able to add buses to those routes, so one can take off when it is full and another can wait for those who want or need a little more time to get off the boat and onto the bus. "

  • Wednesday, April 25, 2001 6:00am
  • News

“If county voters approve a sales-tax hike for Kitsap Transit next month, fares will drop, service will improve and maybe that mad dash off the ferry will become a thing of the past. If they turn it down, though, the transit district lines may be redrawn to exclude parts of the county, and service in the excluded area will be sharply diminished. You do have people running off the ferries now during the commuter period to get a seat on the bus, said Kitsap Transit Executive Director Dick Hayes.If the levy passes, we will be able to add buses to those routes, so one can take off when it is full and another can wait for those who want or need a little more time to get off the boat and onto the bus.The mail-only election, which ends May 15, will ask voters to approve an increase in the sales tax of three-tenths of a cent, raising the Kitsap County tax to 8.5 cents on the dollar from the present rate of 8.2 cents.The 8.5 cent tax rate would be equal to the Pierce County rate, but below the rates in King and Snohomish counties, Hayes said. Maintaining rough equivalence was particularly important to car dealers, where a small difference in tax rates can make an appreciable difference in the purchase price of a big-ticket item and send buyers elsewhere for a better deal.The tax would raise an estimated $7.8 million annually to replace most but not all of the $10.3 million the system lost when the value-based Motor Vehicle Excise Tax was repealed first by voter approval of Initiative 695 in 1999, then by legislative action in 2000.The 2000 legislature passed a one-time $2.9 million appropriation for the system. But is still had to slash service and double fares in order to keep operating.The fare increase led to an almost immediate 32 percent drop in ridership, Hayes said. And because much of the transit system’s ridership consists of commuters coming to and leaving the Bainbridge ferry terminal, a drop in transit patronage likely leads to an increase in island traffic.If the measure does pass, Bainbridge will benefit in several ways, Hayes said.* The fares will revert to 1999 levels of $2 per round-trip for single rides instead of $4, and monthly passes will drop from the present $50 to $25;* Some mid-day loop runs will be restored to take riders from outlying areas of the island to the ferry at non-commuter hours;* The off-island park and ride lot system will be substantially expanded, putting more people on buses and fewer in cars driving across the island to catch the ferry;* The downtown Winslow shuttle bus will make a comeback.Although voters rejected a similar tax-hike request from the transit system in November, Hayes is more optimistic this time around. We didn’t really have a campaign last time around, but we did have some legislators saying that the state would come up with the money, he said. If any of them are saying that this time, I don’t know about it.The measure has been endorsed by the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce. No organized opposition has yet been reported.The November measure also earmarked some money to study whether the transit system should get into the passenger-only ferry business, a complication that Hayes believes may have cut into the measure’s support. The November measure divided the county by geography, Hayes said. Bainbridge gave landslide support – better than two to one – while North Kitsap supported the measure strongly, and Central Kitsap did so moderately.What led to the measure’s defeat, Hayes said, was overwhelming opposition in the south and west portions of the county.Those areas were two-to-one or three-to-one against it, Hayes said.If the measure is beaten again, Hayes said the next step will be to redraw the transit service area and carve out those regions where opposition was strongest. If the measure passed in the redrawn district, the sales tax would be higher in some parts of the county than others.But as Hayes noted, the transit district already receives half a cent in sales tax from the entire county. Because of that, areas carved out of the transit district wouldn’t lose service altogether.It would be cut back, but would be in proportion to their tax contribution, he said.Normally, Hayes said, a special election would work in the district’s favor. Turnout is always much lower for special than for general elections, he said, but the dropoff is smaller in areas like Bainbridge and North Kitsap, where the transit measures have done well.But the all-mail election may make a difference, he said.Some of the folks who are generally kind of against things may not have taken the trouble to go to the polls, he said, but they will vote by mail.County auditor Karen Flynn agreed that turnout will probably be higher for this election than for the normal special elections.You used to have turnouts of between 20 and 25 percent for special elections, she said. But with the all-mail ballot, it generally runs closer to 50 or 55 percent.Ballots will have to be postmarked by May 15 to be valid, and Flynn reminds voters that there is a difference between being at the post office and being postmarked.Every year we have a few hundred ballots postmarked the day after the election, she said. I assume those are voters that dropped their ballot in the mailbox on election day, and it got postmarked the day after. That doesn’t count – if it doesn’t get postmarked by election day, it’s not valid. “

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