Jefferson Transit moves budget despite I-976 uncertainty

Public comments accepted until Dec. 17 vote

PORT TOWNSEND — The Jefferson Transit Authority is planning to move forward with a 2020 budget that assumes a state initiative to reduce vehicle license fees will be upheld.

Despite a King County judge ruling Wednesday that put an injunction on Initiative 976 — the Tim Eyman-sponsored $30 car tab measure voters approved this month — Jefferson Transit Authority (JTA) board members want to continue with a conservative approach.

Staff presented separate budgets with or without the impact of I-976, with the primary difference being the start of a pilot program that would start a new service line directly to the Kingston ferry terminal.

The board had a public hearing Tuesday and approved the first reading of its $5.9 million operating and $4.3 million capital budgets without the pilot program.

A final vote is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Dec. 17 at transit headquarters, 63 Four Corners Road, Port Townsend.

Public input will remain open until the meeting, board Chair David Sullivan said.

Sara Crouch, the agency’s finance and human resources manager, 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.

“I’m glad that we have shown restraint and put aside money for a rainy day, because here comes the rain,” Sullivan said.

Crouch and General Manager Tammi Rubert told board members the I-976 impact is still uncertain.

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, Crouch said.

The agency previously stated it 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 agency’s budget statement.

I-976 was supposed to take effect Thursday, Dec. 5 by limiting annual licence 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, the King County judge’s injunction placed Wednesday delays the implementation of the initiative until the matter can be settled in court.

“We can weather this initial storm,” Crouch said during Tuesday’s public hearing. “We’ll know more early next year after the legislative session to see what, if anything, they’re going to backfill. That makes it incredibly difficult to plan.”

The budget assumes the loss of all state grant funding, and Crouch said it may affect federal grant funding if the state Department of Transportation decides to re-prioritize projects.

“We have a healthy reserve going into this,” board member Greg Brotherton said. “I was fearful, but this is really a stress-free budget meeting in the face of some real possible cuts.”

The 2020 operating budget has a 7.8 percent increase, primarily due to wage increases and retroactive wage payments for a new union contract and for step increases for non-represented employees, Crouch said.

The agency is planning for 49 full-time equivalent positions with a total of 53 employees, she said.

Paid family medical leave also will go into effect in January, and Crouch said it will require more administration from the human resources department.

On the capital side, several items will be unaffected by I-976. Those include the Haines Place Transit Center bus loop project, an electric vehicle feasibility study and plan, and the design of a third maintenance bay.

The planning is ongoing, but the plans may not be put into action if funding is not available down the road, Crouch wrote in the agency’s budget presentation.

In addition, the agency awarded a 20-year comprehensive plan contract in November that will involve public outreach and staff time.

In its vehicle replacement budget, the agency plans for six buses and a trolley-style shuttle. Four of the buses were ordered late this year and will be paid for with grants. One will be ordered in next year and likely arrive in 2021.

Transit also is funding column lifts for vehicle repair and a new customer service desk compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) at Haines Place.

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Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].

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