Street improvement tax extension sent to Aberdeen voters

Ballots for Aberdeen’s Feb. 12 special election were sent out this week, asking citizens to vote on a proposed 10-year sales tax increase for street improvements such as road paving and sidewalk repairs.

If it passes, the current sales tax that supports the city’s Transportation Benefit District (TBD) would increase from 13 to 18 cents for every $100 of taxable goods. That includes purchases by both residents and those visiting Aberdeen. It needs a simple majority of more than 50 percent approval.

In February 2013, Aberdeen voters approved a six-year 13 cents per $100 sales tax increase to fund the street improvements program. Between July 2013 and the end of 2018, the tax has generated a little under $3 million in revenue total, and almost all of it has been spent on transportation projects — primarily road pavings.

The current tax is set to expire in June 2019, and last year the Aberdeen City Council passed a recommendation to send the 10-year extension with the raised cost to voters. If the tax fails to pass Feb. 12, the tax would go away.

“Due to strong citizen approval of the transportation work completed and due to a long list of projects still to complete, the council recommended that the proposed 10-year rate be set at 0.18 percent to increase the amount of work that can be performed annually,” according to a press release about the tax from City Engineer Kris Koski.

In the overview, Koski discusses how the TBD funds are used and how the projects are chosen. It adds that “much” of the tax revenue is generated by non-residents.

Each year, the city’s engineering department submits a project plan for the TBD funds, which considers all the streets identified by city staff, the council or by public comment as in need of repair or improvement. The streets on that list are inspected annually and given scores for their conditions, before Koski ranks the streets based on the scores and selects the top-ranked streets for developing cost estimates.

Koski assembles a project plan based on the top-ranked streets, with an emphasis on providing a range of project types, such as large and small projects, sidewalks, crack sealing and more over “a broad geographical area.”

He added that the city avoids funding projects with local TBD dollars if they’re eligible for state or federal grants.

On average, the tax generates approximately $540,000 annually for street projects, which would go up to an estimated $748,000 in annual revenue if the 10-year extension is approved, the release states. The tax’s revenue by law may only be used for construction, maintenance and operation costs for transportation projects.

Over the past six years, Koski highlighted a couple projects that were funded by the TBD fund, such as re-paving Market Street between F and Park streets. He added that most of these projects, like rebuilding the curvy part of Arnold Street after going up Stewart Boulevard, would’ve never have been possible in that six-year peroid without the tax funds.

Some local projects in the city’s six-year transportation improvement plan, like putting in sidewalks along Boone Street on the way to Grays Harbor College, are primarily funded through state grants, but Koski said the city intends use TBD funds for the city’s match if the tax is approved. That project would still be completed with other funds if the tax was voted down, he added.

Koski said he anticipates more sidewalk projects, like the work on Anderson Drive near Grays Harbor Community Hospital, would get prioritized if the tax was approved.

It wouldn’t be a major blow for the city’s public works if the tax isn’t passed, but Koski said it will play a big role in how long it takes street repairs to happen.

“It’s really up to the citizens to decide, ‘Do we want to fast track repairs, and put more money onto paving streets, repairing broken concrete panels, everything more quickly?’” he said. “If it doesn’t pass this time, everything will be fine, but these projects will come out a lot slower.”

Aberdeen voters have until Feb. 12 to turn in their ballots.