Groups explore light rail funding alternatives

Chamber, Identity Clark County oppose sales tax increase

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

 

Two weeks after announcing they will not support a proposed sales tax hike to help operate light rail in Vancouver, leaders from Identity Clark County and the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday they've formed a task force to explore other funding options.

Both groups support the Columbia River Crossing project but oppose C-Tran's proposal to raise the local sales tax by 0.1 percentage point, which equals a penny on every $10 purchase.

"We cannot just say 'no' to the sales tax increase without providing alternative funding sources," Identity Clark County President Paul Montague said in a news release. "The Columbia River Crossing project is too important to our region's economic future."

The group had its first meeting Monday and plans to meet every week until the election.

Ballots will be mailed Oct. 15.

C-Tran and the city of Vancouver have explored other ways to raise the estimated $2 million to $2.7 million annual operations cost, including an employer tax, a car rental tax and vehicle licensing fees, but decided a combination of such revenue sources would be necessary. Other ideas included having light rail fares cover a greater share of operation costs than the assumed 40 percent or larger contributions from C-Tran or the city.

Montague said he anticipates recommending a combination of funding sources.

The sales tax measure, Proposition 1, will be on the Nov. 6 ballot. Estimated annual revenues in excess of $4 million would cover light rail operations and some of the cost to build a proposed bus rapid transit system on Vancouver's Fourth Plain corridor.

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt has advocated for alternative funding sources since he formed a citizens' advisory group last year that asked very pointed questions about financing and alternatives to a sales tax increase.

"I'm extremely pleased that leadership in the business community is taking this issue head-on," Leavitt said Wednesday. "I look forward to hearing back from them the options they believe are viable."

Kelly Parker, president of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, said in the news release that the group will be building from the work Leavitt did with the advisory committee.

"It is our goal to release recommendations as we agree on them and to keep our partners, the elected officials on Vancouver City Council and C-Tran Board members, in the loop as we move through the process," she said. "We take this process seriously because it's critical that we move forward with the bridge project and demonstrate we have the ability and capacity to pay for the operations and maintenance costs of light rail without raising the sales tax."

The Columbian's publisher, Scott Campbell, is a member of Identity Clark County's board of directors.

Columbian staff writer Eric Florip contributed to this story.