Oak Harbor council puts street repair tax on ballot

It’s Oak Harbor voters who will decide whether to raise the sales tax rate to fund street repairs and maintenance.

After some initial hand wringing, members of the Oak Harbor City Council voted unanimously at a meeting Wednesday to place a measure on the November ballot that would fund street work with a two-tenths of 1 percent increase in sales tax, which will raise an estimated $900,000 a year.

The council created a transportation benefit district last year. Under state law, the district has several options for funding, but council members felt the sales tax increase would be fairest since the cost would be partly borne by visitors.

Councilwoman Beth Munns raised concerns about the timing of the measure since the city will only have a few months to educate people about what it’s all about. She questioned whether to place it on the ballot at a later date.

“I want to win,” she said. “This is so important, and we’ve put it off forever and ever and ever.”

City staff reminded the council that public resources can’t be used to promote a ballot measure, but the city can disseminate the facts.

In the past, Mayor Bob Severns and Councilman Rick Almberg also worried about the timing. Almberg, who previously voted against the measure, was absent.

The city’s funding for street repair and maintenance decreased drastically over the years as the increase in city revenues failed to match inflation and money was directed to other priorities, officials said. As a result, many roads in the city are in dire need of repair.

Several council members said it was time to stop “kicking the can down the road.” Councilman Bill Larsen said failure to act now would be a failure of leadership.

Councilman Joel Servatius pointed out that the sales tax increase would only amount to an extra $1 for someone buying a $500 washing machine.

If the measure passes, the funds will be used to fix projects on specific roads that have already been listed by city staff. After the list is complete, the money will be directed to regular rounds of maintenance.

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