C-Tran board gives in to veto threat

Vancouver council members successfully delay vote on size of light-rail voting pool

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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Stalled by the threat of a bloc veto by members of the Vancouver City Council, the C-Tran board agreed Tuesday to put off deciding the boundaries for a 2012 sales tax vote on light rail and bus rapid transit.

Before the board Tuesday was a proposal put forward by board member and Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart that called for a 0.1 percent sales tax vote go before voters in all of C-Tran’s service area in either August or November 2012.

But on Monday night, the Vancouver City Council, led by Mayor Tim Leavitt, said it wanted more time to hear details on a districtwide vote versus a narrower subdistrict before making a call. The council threatened to vote down Stuart’s proposal as it stood.

And at Tuesday’s meeting the board agreed to put off a decision on the sales tax district’s boundaries to a later date.

“We are not prepared to make a decision,” Leavitt said. “I would urge this board to hold off on making those decisions until we better understand the climate and have the facts and details at our fingertips.”

The delay will not affect the overall timing of the Columbia River Crossing project, nor likely delay C-Tran’s ability to put a high-capacity transit sales tax vote on the ballot in 2012. The move does delay a call on whether the sales tax will go before all those in C-Tran’s service area or a smaller subdistrict, perhaps Vancouver and its urban growth boundary, for example.

The C-Tran board will have to decide before the end of the year about which option it prefers — an expert review panel must analyze the sales tax finance plan before it can be put before voters, Scott Patterson, C-Tran’s public affairs director, said.

If the board ultimately decides to put the vote before all of C-Tran’s service district, then all of that area would pay the tax, at a rate of 0.1 percent. However, some have speculated that voters in more remote stretches of Clark County would be less likely to approve paying for bus rapid transit on Fourth Plain Boulevard and light rail from Portland to downtown Vancouver.

If a subdistrict is chosen, the smaller area would pay the tax, and it would be at a higher rate than 0.1 percent, Patterson said. Cost estimates haven’t been done, but a subdistrict made up of Vancouver and its urban growth boundary may expect to have a 0.2 percent sales tax, while an even smaller district could pay more, he said.

Stuart said he wasn’t comfortable using a subdistrict for the vote.

“I see this as one system … that serves the entire community,” Stuart said. “We have one system that includes buses. That includes connectors. That includes express buses. High-capacity transit is just another piece of our puzzle.”

Linda Dietzman, a Camas City councilor who represents Camas and Washougal on the board, said: “The information that I’ve received from each of those councils is that they wanted a C-Tran districtwide vote. All the individual citizen input I’ve received also wanted the same thing.”

However, Yacolt Mayor James Weldon said his government and Battle Ground’s city council hadn’t had a chance to talk about the differences and both bodies thought more information would be helpful.

Leavitt said Tuesday that neither he nor either of Vancouver’s other two C-Tran representatives, Councilors Larry Smith and Bart Hansen, were for or against a subdistrict. The Vancouver mayor, however, was the one to propose a subdistrict in March.

“That’s not the case — we want to understand the circumstances,” he said, adding the results of this November’s general bus service sales tax measure — which the board agreed to put forward in April — and more public discussion on the high-capacity transit vote would be beneficial in reaching a final decision.

The board did approve one portion of the proposal before them Tuesday: That C-Tran would not sign an interlocal agreement with TriMet for light rail operations until the vote has been taken.

Leavitt asked to table the whole discussion, but was voted down in a bloc veto by the three county commissioners on the board, marking the first use of that power in C-Tran’s history. Only the county and Vancouver have veto power.

After approving the first part of the measure, the group agreed to talk later on the timing of the vote and the size of the tax district.

“You ever play chess where you just move pieces around the board?” Stuart asked. “Instead of sitting around here all night … I’ll be voting for this measure but for procedural reasons.”