Council candidates offer takes on transportation tax

5-week Q/A series showcases candidate views on Mukilteo’s top issues
By Nicholas Johnson | Jul 05, 2017
Courtesy of: candidates Eight of 10 Mukilteo City Council candidates responded to a set of five questions from the Mukilteo Beacon. Candidates pictured above include (from top left) incumbent City Council President Bob Champion, Peter Zieve, Tina Over, Anna Rohrbough, Tony Markey, Sarah Kneller, James Yoo and Riaz Khan. Position 3 candidates Troy Gray and Maxwell Chen did not respond to the Beacon's questions.

Last week, the Beacon kicked off a 5-week Q/A series with candidates for City Council ahead of the Aug. 1 primary election.

The first question focused on commercial air service coming to Paine Field airport. If you missed it, visit mukilteobeacon.com to find the candidate’s answers.

All 10 candidates were given a week to consider five questions and submit answers of no more than 200 words for each. Eight provided responses.

This week’s question focuses on a proposed 0.1-percent sales tax measure to help pay for transportation infrastructure projects such as pavement preservation and pedestrian improvements. That measure is destined for the Nov. 7 general election ballot, though a final public hearing is set for 6 p.m. Monday, July 17, at City Hall.

The city is also soliciting volunteers to write pro and con arguments for the fall voters’ pamphlet. To volunteer, submit a letter of interest indicating which committee – pro or con – to Policy Analyst Marko Liias by 5 p.m. Friday, July 7, at mliias@mukilteowa.gov or to 11930 Cyrus Way in Mukilteo. The city’s Transportation Benefit District board will appoint up to three volunteers to each committee during its July 17 meeting.

This week’s question: In April, the City Council voted 5-2 to create a special taxing district to help pay for transportation infrastructure improvements and maintenance. Now, the council plans to ask city voters to approve a sales tax measure with the goal of raising money for pavement preservation – $900,000 per year – and pedestrian improvements – $435,000 per year. Should the city rely on additional tax revenue to pay for transportation infrastructure projects? If so, why do you believe a tax necessary? If not, how should the city pay for those projects, if at all?

 

Pos. 1

 

Anna Rohrbough

As a member of the Long-Range Financial Planning Committee since 2014 and a frequent attendee of council meetings, I have learned that we are at a critical decision making point regarding how to fund our transportation infrastructure projects.

If we don't take care of something we value now and let it go for too long, instead of it costing cents on the dollar for maintenance, it becomes dollars on the dollar for repair.

There are still children walking to school along pathways with no safe passage, no sidewalks, and even without striping. We can't keep saying our kids’ safety is a priority and not take action.

Transportation issues affect everyone in this community. Our ability to move around the city safely is important to our quality of life. I am happy to see that the council has put this to a public vote so that all the citizens’ priorities will be heard.

As your council member, I will make sure that your money is being used for its intended purpose and managed wisely. The funding for this will not only maintain the beauty that surrounds us, but will also do much to maintain and improve our own property values.

 

Riaz Khan

I strongly support our Mukilteo residents and their hard-earned money. I have said several times to the city of Mukilteo not to punish our residents by raising heavy taxes on them. I have also told the city to utilize surplus money before increasing any tax.

There are several ways that the city could balance the budget by cutting full-time positions down to part-time positions, eliminating unnecessary positions, and deferring some projects to next year.

Now, the city is throwing the ball into the residents’ court to decide on increasing the sales tax when the city can’t balance the budget. If residents don’t approve the increase in sales tax, then the city will definitely increase the property tax, and I do not support any increase in property tax.

 

James Yoo

Elected officials work hard to take care of our city, and the decisions they make about taxing the citizens of Mukilteo are not taken lightly. My concern is that it seems like we are too often reliant on increasing taxes to pay for everything.

I believe in fiscal responsibility, and I believe that we can find solutions to avoid the frequent up-taxing of our citizens. I think we need to research every available option and find opportunities to negotiate for additional funds to cover some of these projects.

With the potential for commercial flights at Paine Field, there may be some opportunity to secure some of these ongoing funds in negotiation with the airlines. There may be a need for an increase in taxes, but before we go that direction we need to try our hand at some alternative and more creative options.

 

Pos. 2

 

Bob Champion

The city will need to find additional resources to support the Wise Investment in Transportation Taskforce’s recommendations and council’s policy direction. However, I believe a request for a sales tax increase is premature.

All data to date shows that 90 percent of our roads are in good to very good condition. It is my opinion that the city must first complete the road evaluation project funded this year to validate the true pavement condition, and then demonstrate strong program execution for the road projects funded this year. If these efforts yield positive results, then I believe council should use existing revenue tools to address the funding shortfall instead of sales tax.

The pedestrian improvements are predicated on grant applications and approvals. If the city does receive a grant, there are sufficient funds in the city’s fund balances to match the grant.

 

Peter Zieve

The city created a Transportation Benefit District (TBD). The purpose of the TBD is to increase taxes to raise additional funds for road maintenance and pedestrian improvements. I am opposed to any additional taxes.

The city needs to live within its means. I also question the criticality of the proposed road maintenance. My approach would be to first determine how much money can be stripped away from the existing budget.

I would eliminate the economic advisor position, return to a weak-mayor system, eliminate the discretionary and travel budgets for the mayor and the council, look for additional cuts elsewhere, then plan the roads program based upon what is saved. No additional taxes, please.

 

Tina Over

I do believe that we need to preserve the pavement improvements and maintenance and add much-needed sidewalks – like on 88th Street Southwest – but I believe we can do this without a higher tax.

We need a fresh set of eyes to look at the budget and see where changes can be made. Let's go back to the basics, renegotiate rates on services and supplies, if these are truly needed. A vast majority of the budget is spent on staffing, and it is a staggering amount if you look up the records for 2015 and 2016.

 

Pos. 3

 

Tony Markey

Currently, our sales tax rate has Mukilteo tied for second place in Washington state. Any increase would put us in first place.

Mukilteo is a unique and beautiful city, but are we so unique that we have to lead the way in this category? I hope not, but putting it in the voters’ hands is the right thing to do.

I’m proud to say I was one of the only candidates present as the council had their public hearing and voted to form the Transportation Benefit District (TBD). That was in April, a week after filing. It was an important meeting.

On the Long-Range Financial Planning Committee, I had a front-row seat in looking at the budget and the budgeting process. As a result, I’ve witnessed what I would characterize as a lack of “fiscal discipline” on behalf of the council.

Funding road maintenance and improvements is of vital importance to our community, but I favor a hybrid approach that requires a good-faith offset in the budget. Proposed tax increases should be offset by some amount trimmed from the budget.

Residents should always believe that their City Council is working with them, not against them.

 

Sarah Kneller

Pavement preservation and pedestrian improvements are imperative to the core structure of our city. We must fund these necessities.

The city can be more diligent with allocation of funds and preventing waste, but not to the tune of $900,000 per year. Actual waste savings would be closer to $147,000 if we are diligent, and potentially more if the council decided to allocate surplus funds to these projects, bringing down the overall tax burden.

Approximately 80 percent of our current operating budget is allocated to mandatory items that we have to maintain for basic operations. These infrastructure projects have been ignored for too long, and the previous Long-Range Financial Planning Committee didn’t allocate a plan to fund these projects, so now we need to find a way to do so.

The highest-priority pedestrian access ways are designated as “safe routes to school,” and I’d say those are worth paying for.

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