WTA proposition deadline nears

Published on Fri, Apr 16, 2010 by Tara Nelson

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Voters who want to cast their ballot regarding the Whatcom Transportation Authority’s (WTA) proposed two-tenths of one percent sales tax increase will want to do so before the April 27 deadline.

Whatcom County auditor Shirley Forslof said ballots must be postmarked no later than election day, Tuesday, April 27 to be counted. Voters may also drop off their ballots at the curbside drop box located at 311 Grand Avenue in Bellingham, the Whatcom County auditor's office. In addition, a ballot drop site will be open on election day only from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Blaine City Hall at 344 H Street. All drop site locations will close at 8 p.m. on April 27.

The measure would bring in approximately $430,000 and tack an additional 20 cents to every $100 consumers spend.

If the measure fails, WTA staff says the agency will make a “two-staged" series of cuts to service, the first – a 14 percent cut – in September, 2010, and the second – a 15 to 20 percent cut – in 2012. Those cuts would include a reductionservice to Blaine and Birch Bay by one-third and the elimination of some Sunday routes in other areas.

The cuts would drop one of the three runs of route 55, which services Blaine and Birch Bay on weekdays and Saturdays. Blaine is also services by route 70X, which makes four round trips and an additional departure per day.

Opponents say the increase isn’t necessary to keep service at current levels, arguing that the organization should use a $22 million “rainy day” fund to pay for cost increases.

WTA communication manager Maureen McCarthy, however, called that argument an “oversimplification adding that the $22 million figure comprised of six different reserve funds, only one of which – the “undesignated reserve
– could be used when sales tax revenues decrease.

"Like all businesses, we have certain minimums we need to keep in place," McCarthy said. "The $22 million isn't actually $22 million anymore. By the end of 2011, reserves will be down to $12 million which is the recommended minimum for our operating, capital, insurance, medical insurance and fleet reserve funds.”

For more information, visit www.ridewta.org. The website of People For Progressive Transportation, the group opposed to proposition 1, is located at www.Nobustax.com. The website of, Transit Works, the group in favor of proposition 1, is located at www.Preserveourpublictransit.org.

Quick facts about Birch Bay ridership

• WTA offers three trips per weekday on Route 55 (up from 2 trips per day).

• In 2007, WTA averaged 25 passengers per day boarding at Birch Bay Square.  In 2009, WTA averaged 40 passengers per day.

• In 2007, WTA averaged six passengers per day boarding in Birch Bay.  In 2009, WTA averaged 20 passengers per day.

• While overall passenger counts are still fairly modest, taken together, WTA has experienced a near doubling of Birch Bay ridership since 2007.