PORT TOWNSEND — The Jefferson Transit Authority board approved its 2020 budget despite uncertainty about how the courts will ultimately rule on Initiative 976.
The five board members — all three of the Board of Jefferson County Commissioners and two from the Port Townsend City Council — unanimously approved the transit agency’s $5.9 million operating and $4.3 million capital budgets Tuesday.
“Everyone is being very guarded with their estimates of what’s going to happen, and I’m very thankful the board has allowed us to hold our position and put us in the position we’re in, because hopefully we’ll be able to weather this and have some time to respond,” General Manager Tammi Rubert said just prior to the vote.
The Jefferson Transit Authority (JTA) board had considered two budgets — one if the Tim Eyman-sponsored I-976 passed on Nov. 5 and the other if voters had rejected the initiative in the general election.
I-976 was approved by voters and was originally intended to take effect Dec. 5 by limiting annual license tabs to $30, eliminating the 0.3 percent sales tax on vehicle purchases, lowering electric vehicle and snowmobile fees, modifying and reducing Sound Transit motor vehicle excise tax provisions, and removing authority for transportation benefit districts to impose vehicle fees.
Instead, a King County judge’s injunction delayed implementation, and the state Supreme Court upheld the ruling.
Now the case can be fully heard in King County Superior Court, although that decision also may be heard in an appeal to the state Supreme Court.
JTA board members estimated a six-month time frame before anything significant will be settled.
“I know that we are working on the Yes on I-976 budget, though we still don’t know the effects of what that will be,” said David Faber, a city council member. “My hope is the things we had to ax as a result, we can consider.”
The major difference between the two budgets was a pilot program that would start a new service line directly to the Kingston ferry terminal.
That has been put on hold until the JTA board learns more about the outcome of the I-976 ruling.
About 31 percent of JTA’s operating revenue comes from the state multi-modal account, which amounts to about $1.53 million this year, the agency said.
Much of that funding comes in the form of grants, said Sara Crouch, the agency’s finance and human resources manager.
The budget assumes the loss of all state grant funding, she said.
JTA officials previously said the agency would not be able to sustain current levels of fixed route and paratransit bus service in East Jefferson County in addition to deviated route service in West Jefferson County if the initiative is upheld.
“The Washington state [Office of Financial Management] has addressed in general terms on the total loss of funding, but not how it will affect grant recipients,” Crouch wrote in the budget statement.
Crouch said reserve balances will sustain the agency next year. Service impacts based on I-976 wouldn’t be felt until 2021, she said.
The operations reserve fund balance is estimated to be at $1.35 million at the end of 2019, and the capital reserve estimate will be $3.96 million, according to budget documents.
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].