The sales tax collection rate for Ben Franklin Transit will not be reduced, the transit commission voted late Thursday.
All but two members found a presentation by bus service staff at a Wednesday evening workshop persuasive and voted to remove a proposal for a public vote on the tax from the agenda at its regular meeting on Thursday. evening.
The board considered two proposals to reduce the sales tax rate this year.
In June, council rejected an outright rate reduction by the council, but asked for more information before deciding whether or not to put the sales tax rate reduction to a public vote.
Voters in Benton and Franklin counties were the ones who approved the current 0.6% sales tax for public transit – 0.3% was approved in May 1981 and another 0.3% was approved in March 2002.
Only Franklin County Commissioners Clint Didier and Rocky Mullen voted against removing discussion of a public vote from the agenda Thursday, and seven board members representing other local governments voted to let the proposal die.
Board members and staff said that instead of cutting spending, they will look at how services can be both improved and made more efficient.
“Now, I understand that some board members and community members believe that Ben Franklin Transit has more money than it really needs,” said Ed Frost, interim CEO of Ben Franklin Transit. Franklin Transit until new chief executive Rachelle Glazier takes office on Monday.
Improve bus service
One way transit can give back to the community could be to offer free service to community events, such as the Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo boat races and Tri-City Water Follies, he said.
Transit is also working on a pilot project to replace full-size buses on some routes with smaller vehicles, Frost said.
Didier and Mullen both argued that large buses are underutilized, with too few passengers for their size.
However, people who take the bus said at council meetings that ridership varies during the day, with some buses being full, for example, when students leave school.
Transit board vice-chairman Richard Bloom, a West Richland councilman, urged council members not to cut transit funding.
“If we don’t provide good service, why are we doing this? he said Wednesday night. “As board members, our job is not to be politicians, but to be responsible for running a public transit system.”
He wants to expand bus service to the Hanford site for nuclear reserve workers.
As the site’s vitrification plant begins to operate, workers will be assigned regular shifts at the plant, he said Wednesday evening.
Board member Terry Christensen, a councilor in Richland, said low-income households are now hurting and struggling to buy both gasoline and groceries.
Education about available services is needed, he said.
Glazier, who attended the workshop virtually before her work began, said she saw “a huge opportunity to improve services and deliver a better product to our community.”
A tax cut would mean these improvements could not be made, and an aging fleet that transit could not afford to replace could mean service remains unreliable.
“It will drive away our traffic faster than anything else,” she said.
Tax cuts cost $222 million
The rejected proposal, had voters approved it in the November ballot, would have reduced the sales tax rate from 0.6% to 0.5%.
This would have saved the average resident of the Ben Franklin Transit area about $1.67 per month, but would have reduced funds for bus service by about 14%, transit officials said at the Wednesday’s workshop.
This would have resulted in a shortfall of $33 million over five years as operating costs, including the price of gasoline, rise dramatically and recent sales tax collections have seen their highest monthly growth. slow in three years.
One possible option for the discounts would have been to end all services on Sunday, but that would still have left a 5% shortfall.
The tax cut would also have made Ben Franklin Transit ineligible for $75 million in state grants over 16 years. Instead, the grant money would have been redistributed to other transit agencies in Washington state.
The loss of subsidies and reduced sales tax revenue would have meant $222 million less for bus service over 16 years.
Staff presented comparisons with other transit agencies in Washington State, showing that by most measures, Ben Franklin Transit operated on average more efficiently than other transit.
“We are relieved that the Ben Franklin Transit Board has finally decided to listen to Tri-Cities residents demanding that the board maintain vital transit services,” said Alex Hudson, executive director of the Transportation Choices Coalition for Purpose. non-profit. “Hundreds of people made public comments and sent thousands of letters to board members, all against the harmful and unnecessary cuts.”
Vanessa Pruitt of Kennewick, a regular Ben Franklin Transit rider and a member of Disability Rights Washington, said the council “made the moral choice and stood with the riders.”
This story was originally published July 15, 2022 5:00 a.m.