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Sept. 24, 2022

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Madore, Mielke seek C-Tran boundaries expansion

Councilors approve conference on issue; they say rural residents' needs not met

By , Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter
Published:

Arguing that C-Tran has failed to meet the needs of rural residents, the Clark County council voted 2 to 1 to convene a conference to expand the public transit agency’s boundaries.

Republican Councilors David Madore and Tom Mielke supported the resolution, which will call a public transportation improvement conference to consider expanding C-Tran’s boundaries to cover the entire county.

Madore said expanding C-Tran’s boundaries will restore for rural residents the right to vote on sales taxes that support the transit agency.

“Because citizens shop in the urban centers … citizens pay the sales tax that supports that transit service,” Madore said. “However, they no longer have the ability to vote on that sales tax.”

Councilor Jeanne Stewart, also a Republican, voted against the action.

Stewart, who said she supports reconsidering C-Tran’s boundaries, called Madore’s resolution “politically charged.”

“I’m wondering why we’re doing it,” she said. “I wonder what we’re hoping to affect.”

The public transportation improvement board — made up of the three county councilors and a representative from each of Clark County’s cities and the town of Yacolt — will function independently of the C-Tran board, though C-Tran spokesman Scott Patterson said the conference is “certainly an issue that has implications.”

“There’s going to be a multitude of issues that are going to be explored and analyzed,” Patterson said.

C-Tran officials have not spoken with county officials over the issue, Patterson said. C-Tran received no advance warning or explanation of Madore’s proposal, finding out, like most of the public, after the councilor posted about it on his Facebook page.

“We’re just kind of having to observe these events as they unfold,” Patterson said.

Patterson also disputed claims Madore made that expanding service countywide will make the agency more effective. Even when C-Tran was offering services countywide, it was often difficult to serve rural residents due to the remoteness and low density of rural Clark County, Patterson said.

Some skepticism

At least two members of the C-Tran board are skeptical of the idea.

Expanding C-Tran’s boundary to cover the entire county could have adverse financial consequences on the agency, said Vancouver City Councilor and C-Tran board member Jack Burkman.

One major factor is C-Van, the federally mandated paratransit service C-Tran offers for disabled riders. The law requires C-Tran to provide C-Van service wherever fixed-route buses travel. But C-Van is far more costly — and far less efficient — than regular buses, according to C-Tran. Expanding the service could put additional stress on C-Tran’s budget, Burkman said.

Sending bus routes to far-flung rural areas would raise cost-versus-benefit questions that C-Tran wrestled with even before its boundaries were reduced in 2005, Burkman said. That was true even when C-Tran was on solid financial footing, he said.

“It’s a different world now than it was then,” Burkman said.

La Center Mayor Jim Irish, the current chair of the C-Tran board, said he hasn’t heard of any push to expand C-Tran’s boundaries besides the county’s effort. Irish said he was surprised at the process used to approve the resolution, which was passed Tuesday barely a week after it was first floated on Madore’s Facebook page.

Irish sat on the C-Tran board during the last transportation conference that reduced C-Tran’s boundaries in 2005. At the time, the results of an unsuccessful sales tax measure the year before were indeed part of the conversation, Irish said. Madore has accused C-Tran of “gerrymandering” the district to ensure passage of another sales tax proposal in 2005. Voters also approved a sales tax hike for C-Tran in 2011.

The impacts of changing the C-Tran district again will need to be vetted before any decision is made, Irish said.

Oct. 27 conference

C-Tran collects sales tax within Vancouver’s urban growth boundary, plus the incorporated areas of Camas, Washougal, Battle Ground, Ridgefield, La Center and Yacolt. The boundaries cover about 80 percent of Clark County residents, Patterson said.

Madore and Mielke have claimed the arrangement amounts to “taxation without representation” for people who shop in those areas but live elsewhere.

But the same could be said of any number of other places, Burkman said.

“To me, that’s like asking to vote on a tax in Longview or a tax in Portland if we make a purchase there,” he said.

The conference is tentatively scheduled from 3 to 7 p.m. Oct. 27 at the Vancouver Community Library, 901 C St., Vancouver.

Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter

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