A damaged road surface in the 100 block of East Railroad Avenue greets visitors arriving in Port Angeles with a bumpy ride. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Angeles votes for sales tax to fund road repairs

PORT ANGELES — Port Angeles residents overwhelmingly voted in favor of a sales tax hike the city would use to fix its worst roads.

The tax would increase retail sales tax by 0.2 percent Jan. 1, 2018, a hike equal to 2 cents on every $10 spent.

As of the initial count of primary election ballots Tuesday night, 67.25 percent voted in favor of the tax and 32.75 percent against, with 2,136 approving it and 1,040 rejecting it.

The measure needed only a simple majority for passage.

“It sounds like the supermajority of citizens have spoken and they would like to see improvement made to our streets and alleys,” said City Manager Dan McKeen.

“Looking at that margin, this topic is obviously important to the citizens of Port Angeles. It’s a message of what they’d like to see.”

He said tax proposals are always a difficult topic. People know they have to pay for services, but they have only a certain amount of money they can spend.

The vote shows residents want the city to fix its roads, he said.

It would increase the sales tax within the city limits to 8.6 percent, or to 43 cents on every $5 spent by anyone, both residents and visitors, who spends money on items subject to the tax in the city.

The Clallam County Auditor’s Office is showing a 25.34 percent voter turnout. It plans another ballot count by 4:30 p.m. Friday. Results will be certified Aug. 15.

The city created the transportation benefit district in April with hopes that residents would favor the tax. The goal was to generate an estimated $600,000 and $700,000 annually to fix city roads.

Funds will be available for city road projects by 2019. Proceeds from the 0.2 percent hike would fund road maintenance and repairs and be used as leverage to generate government funds, McKeen said.

He said the goal is to secure grants and use the funds raised by the tax as matching dollars.

Craig Fulton, public works director, said the city already is preparing to put the money to use.

The city is applying for grants that would help fund repairs on 10th Street and on the alley between First and Second streets downtown near Country Aire Natural Foods. He said 10th Street is failing. The city also would tackle stormwater issues when working on the alley.

Typically, the city pays a 12.5 percent match on grants, Fulton said.

“That’s a huge bang for your buck,” he said.

Fulton said people could see work beginning as early as late 2018 and early 2019 and that design work will be underway soon.

Fulton also is eyeing a street preservation program, something he said the city has lacked for about a decade. Keeping roads in good condition is much more cost-effective than waiting to repair failing roads.

The preservation projects require little design and could be underway by next summer, he said.

“We’re very pleased that the citizens of Port Angeles really trust city staff to do the right thing and ensure the sales tax goes to street and alley projects and that we don’t waste it,” Fulton said.

The money raised by the tax will be in addition to money the city would have spent on roads anyway, McKeen said.

“We ensured that was the way it would be spent,” he said. “That was in the resolution. No matter who is on the council or whose staff is, that direction was made clear.”

Voters will have a chance in 10 years to toss out the tax if they don’t see progress, McKeen said.

“It gives citizens a chance to see how the funding for the transportation benefit district is going before they would reauthorize,” he said. “They can evaluate the progress in how the money is being spent.”

Port Angeles Mayor Patrick Downie said he is confident residents will see results from the tax, though those results won’t happen overnight.

“I’m very confident our public works department will use the money wisely,” he said. “It’s going to take a couple years or more.”

He said people will need to be patient but that he expects significant improvements to city roads.

Downie said he is happy that the tax isn’t only on Port Angeles residents; it’s a tax on anyone who spends money in Port Angeles.

“I think if there is such a thing as a good tax, this is one of those instances,” he said. “I, as a citizen and elected public official, am truly thankful for [voters’] foresight and their recognition that this was the right thing to do.”

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.