Blaine City Council votes to form Transportation Benefit District

By Stefanie Donahue

Blaine is one step closer to getting a sales tax measure on the ballot after the city council voted in favor of forming a Transportation Benefit District (TBD) on January 23.

In the weeks ahead, they’ll vote whether or not to preside as the district’s board and will eventually consider placing a sales tax measure on the ballot as early as the April 2017 special election.

City staff is recommending an increase in Blaine’s sales tax by .2 percent – an increase from 8.5 to 8.7 percent – to fund transportation projects for streets, sidewalks and trails. If placed on the ballot and approved by a simple majority of voters, city staff estimate the tax funding would generate about $200,000 per year, for the next ten years.

In Washington, TBD’s can leverage transportation project funding through a variety of methods, including a vehicle licensing fee, fuel tax or bonds. However, city staff remain enthusiastic about a hike in the sales tax because it doesn’t place the sole burden on Blaine residents. Additionally, cities in neighboring Bellingham, Lynden and Ferndale have already approved increases to the sales tax leveraged through a TBD.

“Our area is very attractive to visitors,” said public works director Ravyn Whitewolf. “It’s really important to recognize how important visitors are to our economy.”

The TBD formed by city councilmembers encompasses the same boundaries as the city. During a public hearing slated for 6 p.m. on Monday, February 6, the council will decide whether or not to assume responsibility as the district’s board.

To coincide with the effort to address transportation needs in Blaine, city councilmembers unanimously approved an amendment to Blaine’s six-year Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) on January 23. Only projects included on the TIP are eligible for grant assistance and funding derived from the TBD.

Nine projects were added to the list based on hundreds of needs identified by residents in a citywide survey released last July. The amended list will be sent to the Whatcom Council of Governments for inclusion in the statewide transportation improvement program.

The city is holding another public hearing to discuss the TBD and a potential sales tax increase during a regular council meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, February 13.

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“We really think that this is going to be vital to the success of our city,” Whitewolf said.

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