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February 2, 1998

Front Page

Council looks at utility taxes again, revenues would be dedicated to 177th


Map courtesy of the City of Woodinville

This map outlines the street the Woodinville City Council is considering setting aside revenues from a utility tax to pay for improvements on.

     by Andrew Walgamott
   WOODINVILLE--The Woodinville City Council took the first step, again, towards setting aside revenues from a proposed utility taxes for streets at last week's meeting. But this time funds collected from a two percent tax on electricity and natural gas and a four percent tax on telephones and garbage collection on city residents and businesses would be specifically targeted at improving N.E. 177th Pl.
   Public Works Director Ron Cameron sees improving 177th as key to relieving traffic congestion on N.E. 175th St., Woodinville's main street. It would also provide additional circulation "to, from and within" the downtown business area, according to Cameron, important now that the new retail center is about to open. Revenues would go towards adding a second left-turn lane off of 131st Ave. N.E. to 177th and improving 177th from that intersection northeast to Woodinville-Snohomish Road.
   The council, more comfortable with using taxes for the short-term project and being able to redirect later, voted unanimously to have a first reading of an ordinance authorizing the tax last week. Second reading, meaning implementation, is scheduled for February 9, according to City Clerk Sandra Steffler. In November and December the council considered earmarking utility tax revenues for arterial streets in general.
   No 'game plan' without tax
   When Mayor Don Brocha asked city staff for a "game plan" for improvements on 177th without a utility tax, City Manager Roy Rainey told him, "There is no game plan." Improvements to 177th was number 19 on last year's Transportation Improvement Plan, meaning funds for design evaluation on what could be done to the street wouldn't be available until the year 2000, according to Cameron. Cameron gave the council a time frame for work on the street with utility tax funding; design reports for 177th would take most of 1998 and construction could begin in late 1999, two years ahead of schedule. Completion would take less than a year, he told the council, if the city's leadership were to act now.
   Finance Director Jim Katica estimated the tax would cost households $53 a year, based on monthly bills of $50 for telephone, $100 for gas and electricity and $10 for garbage collection. He said the proposed tax rate would collect $500,000 over one year. The city could charge up to six percent tax on utilities. Cameron estimated the total cost of improving 177th to be between $6 million to $7 million. He told the council funding would come in thirds; one third from the city, one third from grants and one third from mitigations. Still, City Manager Roy Rainey said it was possible that after engineers studied 177th, the plans might be found to not be the best idea. But Cameron said he was "fairly confident" with the option, saying the only problem would be a physical impediment.
   Hageman urges action
   During discussion, councilmembers appeared hesitant to raise residents' taxes, and made it clear that the tax wasn't a curative for all traffic woes. But Councilwoman Barbara Solberg said authorizing the tax would help the city's economy and merchants, and allow the citizens better downtown access. Deputy Mayor Scott Hageman urged the council to action, saying that citizens' number one concern was traffic. He said that not doing anything would lead to a degradation of quality of life. He said it was time for the council to "stop fooling ourselves. This is what our citizens want. They want something done and something done now." Hageman said to respond to those concerns, there had to be a revenue source. "If we sit and think and hope for someone to ride down [N.E.] 175th [St.], up to our porch with a sack of money, I don't see that happening because he can't get here" because of traffic congestion, Hageman said.
   Councilman Randy Ransom was more cautious. He said that while he understood transportation downtown was a high priority, he didn't believe the tax would go away after the project was finished. But after the council amended the tax ordinance dedicating it to 177th, Ransom said he supported it, saying that when the street work was through, the city could look at funding other projects with the revenue. The council voted 6-0 to have the first reading. Councilman Bob Miller was absent. The next step will be to sell the tax to the citizens. "I believe that earmarking a utility tax will be much more palatable to the residents of Woodinville when they realize it will alleviate the traffic problems downtown," said Councilwoman Marsha Engel.