Blaine public works director answers questions about new sales tax measure

In less than a month, Blaine voters will have to decide whether or not to increase the city sales tax in order to fund transportation projects for streets, sidewalks and trails.

The measure is up for vote during the April 25 special election and, if approved, would increase the city sales tax by .2 percent to generate an estimated $200,000 per year for 10 years.

Before residents cast their vote this April, Blaine public works director Ravyn Whitewolf took a moment to answer a few questions.

Q: What is on the ballot? 

A: Blaine is asking voters to fund a Transportation Benefit District with a two-tenths of 1 percent (0.2 percent) sales tax. This equates to two cents on a $10 purchase.

Q: What is a Transportation Benefit District, or “TBD”?

A: A TBD helps communities fund street and trail programs and projects. Revenue also can provide matching funds for grants, which helps local tax dollars go further.

Q: Why is the city asking for this?

A: In a survey, local residents identified economic development projects, streets and trails as top priorities for funding. Good transportation links are critical to attract and keep businesses in Blaine, and welcome people for shopping and
tourism.

Q: Why can’t the city fund these projects out of existing revenue?

A: Like most cities, the demand for services in Blaine is higher than the revenue available to provide them. This is causing the city to look at different ways to fund what local residents want.

Q: Why did the city decide on a sales tax?

A: A sales tax means that visitors who shop or purchase services in Blaine share in the costs for streets and trails. Borrowing money costs more due to interest payments. A special property tax levy (like voters approved in 1996) wouldn’t include mailbox store customers, Canadians or other visitors using city streets and trails.

Q: I already pay sales tax. Why increase it?

A: Less than 1 percent of the current sales tax stays in Blaine, but 100 percent of what is collected through the TBD (approximately $200,000 per year for 10 years) will stay in Blaine for street and trail improvements. The accounting of the projects is completely transparent including an annual report of what has been accomplished.

Q: What will be the new sales tax rate?

A: If approved by voters, Blaine’s total sales tax rate would go from 8.5 percent to 8.7 percent, which is the same as Bellingham, Lynden and Ferndale. These communities also have TBDs funded through a sales tax.

Q: Where can I find more information?

A: More information, including a list of projects eligible for funding, can be found at www.ci.blaine.wa.us/903/Transportation-Benefit-District-TBD.

Ravyn Whitewolf, Public Works Director, also is available to answer questions at rwhitewolf@cityofblaine.com or 360/332-8820.

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