Pasco City Council looks at backing gas tax increase

By Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 9, 2013 

The Pasco City Council is looking at throwing its support behind a proposed state gasoline tax increase -- if it will help build a new Lewis Street overpass.

The city's lobbyist, Briahna Taylor of Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs, told council members that getting funding from the Legislature to build the overpass, which would cost more than $30 million, is dependent upon the state increasing the 37.5 cents-per-gallon gas tax.

The Legislature may take up a proposed gas tax increase of between 9 and 10.5 cents per gallon in a special session in November or December, Taylor said. The transportation package passed the state House of Representatives in the regular legislative session this year before dying in the Senate.

Several council members spoke in favor of supporting the tax increase at their Monday workshop meeting. The council is considering voting on a resolution of support at its Sept. 16 meeting, and sending representatives to upcoming transportation meetings with state senators in Yakima and Spokane.

"I do think we should move forward cautiously and competitively," Mayor Matt Watkins said.

The city has been looking for years to replace the underpass that now takes drivers under the BNSF railroad tracks. That tunnel was built in 1937, and officials fear how long it will be usable.

Taylor warned council members that, even if the tax passes, Pasco would face competition from other projects such as the Red Mountain interchange off Interstate 82 and the widening of Highway 12 near Walla Walla.

"It's not necessarily a slam dunk that if you support the Lewis Street overpass and the gas tax associated with it, that you automatically receive the Lewis Street overpass," she said.

Former Spokane Mayor John Talbott said the council should have a public hearing before putting its weight behind the tax increase.

"When you start making that money available based upon a 91/2 cent gas tax increase, it's the citizens of Pasco that are going to pay that 91/2 cents," Talbott said during the public comment portion of the meeting. "I think you would agree that the citizens of Pasco are not ones that can afford a 91/2 cent increase."

Councilman Bob Hoffmann said the public hearing was "worth considering."

The council also discussed changes to a proposed panhandling ordinance that would make an exception for fundraising.

The change in the ordinance, which would ban solicitation on public roads, was made after a representative of the Muscular Dystrophy Association spoke at the council's Aug. 26 meeting. She asked members not to prohibit the MDA's "Fill the Boot" campaign, in which firefighters collect money at intersections.

The city now plans to add a permitting process that will allow "bonafide charitable organizations" to solicit. Along with "Fill the Boot," high school car washes and doughnut sales are listed as acceptable fundraisers.

Another change would allow for people advertising a business to stand on sidewalks, such as a person dressed as the Statue of Liberty advertising a tax preparer.

In other business Monday, city staff lowered its proposed increase in park impact fees that are added on to new home construction costs. The city initially proposed a fee of $1,500, more than double the $709 it now charges. After negative feedback from some council members and home builders, the city now is asking to raise the fee only to $1,300.

Pasco's fee, which goes toward construction of neighborhood parks, still would be the highest in the Tri-Cities, if approved. Richland charges a park impact fee of $1,187 per home, West Richland charges $860 and Kennewick charges between $300 and $1,000.

Pasco community and economic development director Rick White said the less-than-planned increase was made possible by taking money dedicated for restrooms at the neighborhood parks out of the impact fee.

w Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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