Oak Harbor Council creates taxing district to fund roadwork

Oak Harbor City Council adopted an ordinance that should help the city fund road maintenance and other improvements.

In a 5-1 vote, the council approved the establishment of a transportation benefit district, which is a quasi-judicial corporation with an independent taxing authority to raise money for road work.

Exactly how the district will raise money won’t be decided until later.

One of the benefits of the district is that the money raised could be used for fixing roads; most grant funds cannot be used for maintenance projects, said Senior Planner Dennis Lefevre.

Council members agreed that the city needs to invest more in keeping roads ship-shape. Councilman Bill Larsen said the need will only increase in the future.

“It’s something I would like to see us get ahead of,” he said.

Councilman Rick Almberg cast the only vote against the measure. He said he agrees that it’s probably the right mechanism to raise funds for roads, but he thinks the timing is wrong. He said he wants city staff to concentrate on completing the sewage treatment plant.

“City staff agrees, establishing a transportation benefit district is not urgent,” he said afterward.

“Successfully completing the wastewater treatment plant is.”

Under state law, council members would be the governing body of the district, even though it would be a separate legal entity.

Lefevre explained that the transportation benefit district has five options for raising money. The two most commonly used options are a vehicle license fee or a sales and use tax.

The vehicle license fee in the city may be increased by $20 or up to $40 after two years. With nearly 16,000 registered vehicles in the city, it would raise about $315,000 in a year, he said.

The sales and use tax can be increased by an amount not to exceed two-tenths of 1 percent. This option would require voter approval. If passed, the tax would raise about $911,000 a year in Oak Harbor and would be in effect for 10 years.

Other options are a commercial and industrial building fee, an ad valorem tax and vehicle tolls on roads.

Larsen pointed out that, with a sales tax, Oak Harbor residents would not have to foot the entire bill for road work since visitors also pay sales tax.