PORT TOWNSEND — A measure to ratchet the county sales tax up another 0.3 percent will be on the February ballot.
The Jefferson Transit Board voted Tuesday 4-0, with County Commissioner John Austin absent, to place a proposed sales tax increase on the Feb. 8 ballot.
If voters pass the sales tax hike, it will be added to the 0.3 percent increase approved in the Nov. 2 election.
The election-approved increase, which will benefit the county and city of Port Townsend, raises the county sales tax rate from 8.4 percent to 8.7 percent, effective April 1, making Jefferson County’s sales tax the highest on the North Olympic Peninsula.
The transit sales tax proposal, if approved in February, would raise the county sales tax rate to 9 percent.
Jefferson Transit staff members estimated that it would generate $642,000, a number questioned by several transit board members who approved the proposal with the caveat that the revenue projection be re-examined.
After the board approved placing the measure on the ballot, it received an ovation from the 15 spectators present.
“For all the festivals and events in the community, Jefferson Transit is what brings the people here,” Gordon Neilson said, adding that “this is not like a property tax.
“This is the one tax that you can invite everyone who comes here to share in.”
The additional revenue would prevent the need for service cutbacks, said Jefferson Transit Executive Director Peggy Hanson.
“Our sole purpose in this action is to stabilize the existing service model in both East and West Jefferson County that we enjoy today,” Hanson said.
“If we pass this, we will be able to maintain seven-day service throughout the eastern portion of the county as well as six-day service in the Forks area, which has become a lifeline to many of the residents.”
If it fails to gain voter approval, then the public bus agency would cut back service days to six days in East Jefferson County and four days in Forks, decline grant funding and reduce personnel, Hanson said.
Hanson also said the additional revenue would provide matching funds for the purchase of new buses and would support four projects she described as “high priority.”
They are expanded hours; commuter service to Marrowstone Island, Cape George and Kala Point; expanded service to West Valley End and Center Road; and a direct shuttle to Kingston that would provide a connection to Seattle.
Board member and Port Townsend City Council member George Randels said a shuttle would be redundant and that it is more important to develop local service.
This was the second time this year that Hanson had presented the proposal to the transit board.
In July, the board — which includes all three Jefferson County commissioners and two members of the Port Townsend City Council — declined to place the measure on the November ballot because it would compete with Proposition 1, which voters passed Nov. 2 with 56.3 percent of the vote.
County Commissioner David Sullivan, who said he had been “cautiously optimistic” about the passage of Proposition 1 — which county commissioners placed on the ballot — said the transit measure stood a better chance of passage because its benefits were specific “and were not spread throughout several programs, and people know exactly what they are getting.”
There are several similarities between the proposed transit sales tax increase and the measure that voters approved Nov. 2.
Both add 3 cents to each $10 purchase on non-food items.
The campaign strategy is the same, with the agency spelling out exactly what the tax will fund and what services will be lost if it is defeated.
Staff members, like Hanson, will be prohibited to campaign directly for the measure but can supply information, while the elected board members can advocate it directly.
“I will use my position to speak out in favor of this until someone tells me I cannot,” Randels said.
There is one difference between the two measures: the amount that the sponsoring agency projects it will generate.
Jefferson County projected that Proposition 1 will earn approximately $650,000 for the county and $450,000 for the city, totaling $1.1 million.
Randels, Sullivan and County Commissioner Phil Johnson questioned Jefferson Transit’s lower amount of projected revenue.
The board said that staff members must reconcile the number with the county.
“I think the numbers will even out,” said board Chairwoman Catherine Robinson, who is also a Port Townsend City Council member.
After the meeting, Jefferson Transit Finance Administrator Sara Crouch said she projected an identical sales tax revenue for future years as was received in 2009 and 2010, multiplying that number by 0.3 to reach $642,000.
Hanson said Tuesday that Crouch will schedule a meeting with Morley in order to match the numbers.
“I am confident in Sara’s equations and projections,” she said.
________Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at email@example.com.