Port Angeles council eyes range of possible fee increases, including car tabs

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — City Council members are expected to consider in the coming two months a suite of proposed financial policies designed to coincide with a long-range plan for the city in development since early last year.

The proposed policies introduce the possibility of a transportation benefit district and an increase in Medic One utility rates, though City Manager Dan McKeen has said those are far from decided.

A transportation benefit district, currently in place for Sequim residents after a 2009 vote to increase the city sales tax, would collect a certain percentage of sales tax in the city or implement a car tab fee to help fund city street improvement and maintenance, city Chief Financial Officer Byron Olson explained.

The City Council can approve up to a $20 car tab fee itself, Olson said, but must get voter approval for any higher amount or for a sales-tax increase.

The policies, most recently discussed at a City Council work session Tuesday, are part of a larger long-range financial plan still in the works, which McKeen said he intends to get finalized for council consideration and public hearings in July.

The long range plan would look at the city’s financial obligations for the next five years so staff and council members can better plan for future budgets, Olson said.

“We are looking at our long-range financial plan to be our guide post,” Olson said at Tuesday’s work session.

McKeen said staff plan to bring the proposed policies to the council for a first reading at its April 15 meeting, with the intent of holding a vote on them after a second reading at the first council meeting in May.

The proposed policies address numerous aspects of city financing, including requiring that the overall impact of any new debt be considered before the city elects to take it on.

Once approved, Olson said these financial policies would be reviewed each year and brought before the council for possible updates.

“This really becomes a real, living document,” Olson said.

“It won’t just be something that sits up on a shelf gathering dust.”

One portion of the proposed policies, developed with councilmembers’ input during work sessions over the past several months, directs council members to consider phasing out general-fund contributions to the city’s street fund and Medic One utility funds.

The street fund pays for city transportation infrastructure maintenance and improvements, while Medic One funds city Fire Department medical services.

Olson said making these two funds more self-supporting is being discussed so general-fund contributions to these areas can be reduced over the next three to five years and used for future general-fund needs.

The general fund currently contributes about $500,000 each to the street and Medic One funds, Olson said.

The proposed policies put forward a transportation benefit district and Medic One rate increase as possible options for replacing the general-fund contributions to those funds and do not call for either, Mc­Keen explained.

“The financial [policies] in no way requires that council move forward with a transportation benefit district,” McKeen said.

Rather, McKeen said the proposed policies would direct staff to gather information on how a benefit district would be implemented so council members can consider it as an option for replacing the current general-fund contributions to the city’s street fund.

Similarly, any rate increase for the Medic One rate — currently $5.43 per month per household — would only be put forward after a cost of service study for the utility, McKeen said.

At a Jan. 28 work session, council members supported putting a transportation benefit district in any form to voters.

“I think voters ought to weigh in on this issue,” Councilman Brad Collins said.

“I think that if we’re going to solve some of the street issues, we need to put this in front of the voters.”

Councilman Lee ­Whetham echoed Collins’ sentiment.

“I would rather let the voters have the last say,” Whetham said.

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 27. 2014 7:02PM
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