Transit sales tax hike squeaks by with low turnout

Published on Thu, Mar 14, 2002 by Meg Olson

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Transit sales tax hike squeaks by with low turnout

By Meg Olson

Whatcom County voters gave enough thumbs up to the proposed sales tax hike supporting public transit to pass the measure by 55 percent of the vote. With a 27 percent turnout countywide, it would seem to mean that more people don’t care than actively support or oppose paying an extra three tenths of a cent on the dollar in sales tax to the Whatcom Transit Authority (WTA).

“It’s not a bad showing,” said Blaine city council member Mike Meyers, who represents the city on the WTA board. “Now we can work on building a great system for the county.”

Support for the sales tax increase was by far the strongest in Bellingham, where 68 percent of voters supported the measure. East county communities voted against the sales tax hike. In Nooksack and Sumas only 38 percent of voters supported the measure, in Lynden 39 percent and in Everson 41 percent.

Blaine, with 56 percent voting yes, and Ferndale (57 percent yes) fell in the middle of the range. In parts of the Blaine school district outside the city limits, Custer precincts, covering Custer and part of Birch Bay, voted 45 percent in favor of the tax increase. Semiahmoo precincts – the rest of Birch Bay – saw a 58 percent yes vote.

Blaine had the distinction of having the lowest turnout at the polls. Only 3.5 percent of registered voters voted in person. However, with a stronger absentee vote, Blaine had the second lowest turnout in the county after Everson – 23 percent.

Myers said the Blaine area was unlikely to see an increase in service due to the increase in taxes, but would maintain what is in place: The 70X scheduled service and Dial-A-Ride. “We’re probably using the service we have now to the level you’d expect,” Myers said. A WTA plan had been to cut Blaine/Birch Bay Dial-A-Ride in half if the measure failed.
Myers said a strong countywide system, which WTA would now have the resources to build and maintain, would ultimately be better for Blaine.

“The WTA is a regional transportation system and it can do better along those lines. That transportation system will serve Blaine well when we can get people out of their cars and on the bus,” he concluded...

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