City may veto size of light rail voting pool

Mayor wants more details before final boundaries decision



Updated: May 9, 2011, 9:37 PM


Public meeting

What: The C-Tran board will vote on a resolution that would place a 0.1 percent sales tax increase for light rail and bus rapid transit before voters.

When: 5:30 p.m. today

Where: C-Tran Administrative Facility, 2425 N.E. 65th Ave., Vancouver.

Led by Mayor Tim Leavitt, the Vancouver City Council indicated Monday that it might use its block veto powers to keep the C-Tran board from making a final decision on just who will get to vote on a proposed sales tax for light rail and bus rapid transit.

The 10-member C-Tran Board of Commissioners is set to vote tonight on a resolution that would place a 0.1 percent sales tax measure before all voters in C-Tran’s service area on either the August 2012 ballot or the November 2012 ballot. Clark County commissioner and C-Tran board member Steve Stuart directed staff last month to ensure the resolution included wording that the vote would include C-Tran’s entire service territory and not a subdistrict, a proposal that Leavitt said caused him to be “taken aback.”

Leavitt said Monday that he thought it was too soon to decide the boundaries of the tax vote.

With the backing from the city council, Leavitt said if Vancouver’s three C-Tran representatives can’t find support from other board members, they will exercise their block veto to stop the board from drawing up the taxing district just yet.

Leavitt said it makes sense to wait until more information — particularly from an expert review panel that will appraise the plans for both light rail and bus rapid transit in early 2012 — is available before they make that call.

“There are a lot of complex machinations that are happening. Locking us into a decision either way is way too premature.”

Leavitt in March suggested forming a subdistrict for the ballot measure. Such a district may raise the overall cost of the sales tax in a smaller area — perhaps Vancouver and its urban growth boundary — but those voters may be more supportive of light rail and bus rapid transit in downtown Vancouver.

However, at last month’s board meeting, Stuart said he favored a districtwide vote, meaning a voter in La Center would be among those who have a say on a tax to support light rail from Portland to Clark College and bus rapid transit on Fourth Plain Boulevard.

“I want people to know and be certain that there will be a full districtwide vote on this, and not just a subdistrict,” Stuart said in April.

If the Vancouver representatives — Leavitt and Councilors Larry Smith and Bart Hansen — use the block veto tonight, it will be the first time in C-Tran history, Director Jeff Hamm said. Smith and Hansen echoed Leavitt’s reservations about a lack of firm information Monday.

“We’ll exercise our veto and we’ll make it clear we’re going to do that,” Leavitt said.

The only other body with block veto power on the C-Tran board is the Clark County commissioners. The other members on the board are elected officials from La Center, Battle Ground and Camas, and an organized labor representative.

If the resolution is vetoed or loses in a majority vote, it won’t necessarily delay the timing of the high-capacity transit vote itself; city council members said they were in favor of putting the sales tax on the Nov. 6, 2012, election, when there is likely to be a high voter turnout. Instead, C-Tran staff would likely draft a resolution for an upcoming meeting that names the date of the sales tax vote, but not its boundaries. The board will have to vote on a full formal resolution on the sales tax before it goes on a 2012 ballot. The C-Tran board already agreed last month to put a 0.2 percent tax for basic bus service on the ballot this November.

Leavitt said the veto may not be necessary, because he thought some of the small city members also had reservations now about determining the span of a potential sales tax district.

Councilor Jeanne Stewart said she favors a districtwide vote over a subdistrict because those outside the taxing district could then ride light rail without paying the tax. “They’re benefitting because they’re outside the taxing district, and that’s not fair to the citizens of Vancouver.”

Councilor Jeanne Harris said she’s also been on record as favoring a wider vote, but was open to leaving the question on the table. The delay could create more transparency to the public about how the decisions on the vote are made, Councilor Jack Burkman said.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542, or