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Grand Coulee voters consider sales tax bump for streets


Voters in Grand Coulee this week received their mail-in ballots asking whether they approve of creating a Transportation Benefit District (TBD) and bumping up the sales tax rate to pay for it.

The city council voted back in October to create a TBD to raise money for streets. If voters pass the issue, residents and anyone else purchasing taxable items within the city limits will pay two-tenths of one percent more in sales tax.

The new money would develop funds to repair streets within the city.

A transportation benefit district can use one of two forms for the collection of special fees. Grand Coulee, after several council debates, decided to raise its retail sales tax rather than impose a $20 fee on the sale of license tabs.

The issue was prompted by last winter’s street damage from ice and snow.

The council reasoned at the time that people come here and use the city streets, but do nothing to keep them in repair.

“This was a more equitable way to spread the costs,” Mayor Paul Townsend said Tuesday.

If voters OK the TBD, Grand Coulee will join the other three local towns and cities that have such a district. The other three municipalities chose to benefit from the license tab option.

The sales tax increase would take Grand Coulee’s rate from 7.9 percent to 8.1 percent.

When voters approved Initiative 695 in 1999, the measure wiped out 7 percent of the state’s revenue, but also a dependable annual source of revenue in small towns that helped with street repair. Although the measure was later ruled unconstitutional, the state Legislature headed the voters’ wishes and passed a similar measure.

Ever since, small towns have found keeping up with street repairs more difficult; TBDs are a tool for making up the difference.

Then last winter took a high toll on Grand Coulee’s streets, leading city leaders to put the idea to the voters.

Grand Coulee collects more sales tax than other local towns, much of it from tourists, making that option more palatable than imposing a car tab fee, leaders argued.

Some $30 million in sales taxes were collected in the city in 2016. The raise would add about $50,000 a year, officials estimate.

The ballot issue states: “This proposition would authorize a sales and use tax up to two-tenths of one percent (0.002) to be collected from all taxable retail sales within the District in accordance with RCW 82.14.0455 for a term of ten years for the purpose of providing financing to fund the following improvement projects identified in the City of Grand Coulee Transportation Improvement Program (TIP): resurfacing pavement on arterial streets, adding non-motorized transportation options.”

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