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Poulsbo explores $20 car tab fee

POULSBO — Poulsbo could be the latest in a string of Washington cities to adopt a car tab fee to fund road maintenance.

But the City Council must travel a long road before the city can implement such a fee.

“This is a source for a few additional dollars to try and maintain some of the streets that we have,” Councilman Gary Nystul said. “It’s better than nothing, but it’s not enough to do what is needed in the long term.”

Nystul noted that if Poulsbo adopts a car tab fee, it would only add one slice to the city’s funding pie. And that funding would only go toward road maintenance. But at $20 per car tab — one option the council could pursue — the city could raise approximately $80,000, according to council estimates.

“It’s in no way going to address the entire situation,” he said. “The city engineer has told us we have several hundred thousands of dollars of maintenance work to do on our streets,” Nystul said. “We do not have hundreds of thousands of dollars on an annual basis to spend.”

State law allows municipalities to create transportation benefit districts to raise funds for local roads. The districts can raise money a variety of ways, such as seeking grants or bonds. Perhaps the most popular method, however, has been the implementation of a car tab fee.

If Poulsbo, for example, formed a district and passed such a fee, each resident would pay the fee when renewing their car tabs. The money would go strictly toward road maintenance, and could not be allocated for any other purpose.

Neighboring Bainbridge Island formed a transportation benefit district in 2013 with the aim of implementing a $20 car tab fee. Island residents now pay the fee when renewing their car tabs.

If Poulsbo formed its own transportation benefit district, it could pass its own fee by a council vote alone. State law caps council-approved car tab fees at $20. But Councilman Ed Stern said he would like to take another approach.

If the council put the fee up for voter approval, instead of passing it from the dais, it could go as high as $40 per tab.

“I believe we need to go to the voters and have them agree and show them direct benefit,” Stern said.

“Then, for example, it could be a $40 car tab which would raise approximately $160,000, which then could be bonded against to create a big revenue stream over years to do major neighborhood streets. It’s the neighborhood streets where our voters live that are suffering from neglect.

“We then could show the voters what streets in which neighborhoods in which order would get done so they know their dollars are being spent directly to benefit their property values as well as transportation improvements,” he added.

Poulsbo’s council members have been discussing the transportation benefit district idea across their various committees, such as the finance committee. Most recently, the idea was put in front of the public works committee.

“There’s been a lot of discussion about doing maintenance on our roads, outside of the ones we’re getting grants for, like your neighborhood roads, and how we are going to maintain them with the revenue sources we have,” Councilman Jeff McGinty said.

“The initial context in which this was brought forward was to potentially add a $20 car tab fee,” he said. “Our committee has now (asked), with that money — should we choose to do go do that — what could we actually do?”

McGinty said the public works committee tossed the idea around at its meeting on April 9. It will now proceed with doing an inventory of city roads, and maintenance needs to ascertain how, and if, any funds raised from the tab fee would help.

“We’ve talked about maybe doing different quadrants. So maybe certain areas would get certain projects each year,” McGinty said. “And how much money this would generate, how [many] projects could we actually do. And is it feasible to go through all this process if we can only repair, say, a quarter of a mile a year, which wouldn’t be very practical.”

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