Council to debate proposed employee head tax for light rail

Public will get chance to weigh in on issue at Monday meeting

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer



Public meeting

What: The Vancouver City Council will take public comment and debate a proposed employee head tax on businesses to help pay for light rail operations and maintenance.

When: 6:30 p.m. today.

Where: City Hall, Council Chambers, 415 W. Sixth St.

Residents and business owners will have a chance to weigh in on a proposed employee head tax to pay for operations and maintenance of light rail at Monday's Vancouver City Council meeting.

The tax, proposed by Councilor Jack Burkman in late May, would leverage a set amount per full-time employee per month as the primary way to raise the $2.57 million in annual operations costs for a MAX line from Portland to Clark College.

City and C-Tran staff conducted an analysis of options, and it will present three to the city council for a debate, public comment and potential resolution, said Matt Ransom, Vancouver project development and policy manager.

The potential resolution comes one day before a C-Tran Board of Directors meeting, during which board members are ex

pected to discuss light rail funding. A head tax would require approval via a public vote.

Light rail is included in plans for the $3.5 billion Columbia River Crossing, which includes a new Interstate 5 bridge. The project expects the federal government to contribute the $850 million needed to build the line.

City Manager Eric Holmes said Friday that a public hearing and resolution are planned so that the city council can hear input and also have a very clear document stating their policy direction for the C-Tran meeting.

He added that there's no staff recommendation as to what policymakers should do, just "analysis and a draft resolution for review."

Ransom will present three options to the city council: two involve a $1 per full-time employee per month head tax, one involves a $2 per full-time employee per month head tax. All scenarios also include using any savings C-Tran creates by eliminating redundant bus service in the light rail corridor to help pay for it, and also using the sales tax revenue generated as a result of CRC-related construction and related activities, plus supplementing that money as needed with additional C-Tran discretionary revenue derived from light rail and related operations.

A one-tenth of 1 cent sales tax had long been the assumed method of funding light rail, until the Vancouver City Council said it wanted to exhaust all other funding options.