C-Tran panels will create sales tax arguments

Voters to decide in Nov. on maintaining current bus service

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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The C-Tran Board of Directors on Tuesday formed two committees that will help shape the debate over an upcoming sales tax vote to maintain bus service.

But the board decided to wait on another seemingly routine step: approving the 100-word explanatory statement that goes in the voters’ pamphlet. Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt, a member of the nine-person board, said he has suggestions to improve it.

Leavitt didn’t offer specifics after the meeting, other than to say he’d like to see a “stronger” statement that more clearly defines the issue. The board will consider an explanatory statement again during its August meeting.

Clark County voters will decide this November whether to raise the sales tax by 0.2 percent to maintain existing bus service. The change would amount to an extra 2 cents for every $10 purchase.

C-Tran currently levies a voter-approved 0.5 percent sales tax to help pay for service.

C-Tran is forced to spend down reserves in order to keep bus service levels intact, said Scott Patterson, public affairs director for the transit agency. Should this November’s tax measure fail, C-Tran would have to reduce service by about 35 percent by 2013 in order to balance its budget, he said.

“At that point, we run out of reserves to pay for service,” Patterson said. “We have to have cuts at that point.”

Two committees, approved by the board Tuesday, will craft voters’ pamphlet arguments for and against the sales tax measure. Writing in favor of the measure: state Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, Clark County Commissioner Marc Boldt — also C-Tran’s board chairman — and Battle Ground Mayor Mike Ciraulo.

Writing against the proposal are residents L.M. Patella and Debbie Peterson, plus a third member to be determined. C-Tran has reached out to another nominee for the opposition committee, but hasn’t received confirmation from that person, Patterson said.

The appointments passed by a unanimous vote. Board member Steve Stuart abstained because of a conflict of interest, saying his wife is involved in the campaign surrounding the tax vote.

Earlier in the evening, several citizens had another sales tax proposal on their minds: a planned 2012 vote to fund light rail and bus rapid transit. Some reiterated concerns over bringing light rail into downtown Vancouver, as proposed in the Columbia River Crossing bridge project. Others called for a countywide vote on the matter, siding with Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler.

Herrera Beutler has called for a districtwide vote to decide on the sales tax increase for light rail funding, as opposed to a smaller subdistrict vote — Vancouver and its urban growth boundary, for example. Herrera Beutler recently sparred with Leavitt in a series of letters regarding that vote. Leavitt has not committed to who should vote on the light rail funding.

The C-Tran board hasn’t decided on a boundary for the vote yet. Members will have to make a decision before the end of the year.