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News / Politics / Election

C-Tran boundary expansion proposal fails to get far

Clark County council-led effort snubbed

The Columbian
Published: October 27, 2015, 8:22pm

The funny thing about transportation proposals is that they don’t always get very far.

A potential expansion of C-Tran’s boundaries was shot down at a multi-agency conference Tuesday afternoon.

“I think it’s a worthwhile conversation to have, but this is not the place,” Vancouver City Councilor Jack Burkman told the 11-member group.

The Clark County council called the conference together with the goal of bringing the entire county back into the transit agency’s service area. Right now, just Vancouver’s urban growth boundary and the county’s incorporated cities, aside from Woodland, are included.

“Our citizens outside the city limits are not being served, although they are being taxed,” County Councilor David Madore said, referring to sales taxes paid by rural residents who shop in cities.

Early in the meeting, Burkman asked for a vote to stop the process and essentially cancel the conference, which was expected to have months of work ahead of it.

That started a back-and-forth between Madore and Burkman over the appropriateness of the conference.

“I do not see it as desirable at this point,” Burkman said. “We should rely on the institution we already participate in,” the C-Tran board.

Madore said there should at least be a chance to collect public comment on the proposal.

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“I believe it would be completely inappropriate to dismiss a potential improvement for citizens without even hearing from citizens,” he said.

But by a 5-4 vote with two abstentions, the conference’s work was over before it began.

“Everybody needs to be involved, but I think it needs to be done with the expertise of C-Tran,” Ridgefield Mayor Ron Onslow said. “They are the ones who can give us the facts, figures, what it’s going to cost and how we’re going to do it. This conversation should go through that venue.”

An elected representative from each of the county’s eight incorporated cities, as well as all three county councilors, comprised the panel. Yacolt Mayor Jeff Carothers, Battle Ground City Councilor Lyle Lamb and County Councilors Madore and Tom Mielke had voted to continue the conference.

Burkman, Onslow, Woodland City Councilor Al Swindell, La Center Mayor Jim Irish and Camas City Councilor Greg Anderson voted to cut the conference short. County Councilor Jeanne Stewart and Washougal Mayor Sean Guard abstained from voting.

But the meeting was not for naught, as the conference voted unanimously on an idea by Guard — who chaired the meeting — to have C-Tran set up its own study of boundary changes. It would be a similar countywide group including the C-Tran board and representatives of all of Clark County’s cities.

That was good news to Swindell, who said his growing city would like to join C-Tran.

“There are those of us who would like to be able to pay that tax so we can get that service,” he said.

The C-Tran board will need to vote, if it chooses, on forming the countywide study group. The difference in the new group is that it won’t have the authority to impose boundary changes — state law says only conferences like the public transportation improvement conference called together Tuesday can get boundary changes on a ballot.

The law says the county council could have required a public hearing be set to continue the process, but a 6-5 vote by the conference determined it would not make such a date even if directed.

C-Tran’s boundaries, which currently include about 80 percent of the county’s population, shrank in 2005 after its board called a similar conference amid a financial crisis. Those within the boundary vote on sales taxes proposed by the transit agency.

During public comments, which were not advertised as part of the meeting but were allowed by a unanimous vote of the conference, Margaret Tweet of Camas said that rural areas are being excluded because they didn’t approve a sales tax rate hike — and that there are plenty of rural residents who need the service.

A Vancouver man also brought up the tax implications of the existing boundaries.

“The areas you’re going to take in don’t have the population, the density to support a bus line,” Phil Parker said. “So you’re going to get residents who are going to vote against (tax increases) anyway.”

But a Camas man said the county’s growth will have to mean C-Tran’s growth.

“With growth exploding, the current boundaries are not appropriate for where citizens are already living or where they will be in the next three, five, 10 years,” said John Ley.