Voters will be asked next year to support a 0.1 percent sales tax increase to pay for a regional project in the community.
The Tri-Cities Regional Public Facilities District board voted 8-1 on Wednesday to limit their sales tax increase request to 0.1 percent, which would raise an estimated $39.5 million over the next 25 years.
If passed, the sales tax increase would add one cent to a $10 purchase.
The board was considering asking voters to approve twice that amount to help pay for up to four projects that have been proposed.
John Givens, who also is on the Kennewick Public Facilities District board, was the lone no vote. He said he didn't want to eliminate projects from the regional district's selection process.
"If we limited our funding, we're limiting our projects ..." Givens said. "I think we should determine which projects are important, which projects should go forward, and then allocate money for each project."
The regional board had four projects on its list that it is considering: a $35 million aquatics center, a $36 million performing arts center, $14.5 million to help build the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center and $15 million to add an exhibit hall at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick.
The regional district is allowed by law to seek up to a 0.2 percent sales tax increase. By selecting the lower amount, it leaves 0.1 percent available for future projects, or allows, for example, the Richland Public Facilities District to seek its own 0.1 percent sales tax measure.
Board member Sandra Kent, a Richland councilwoman, said she supported the lower amount because she was uncomfortable with taking the full taxing authority allowed by law without having all three city public facilities districts onboard.
Givens suggested that the regional board collect the full amount but specify that half of it go to one project supported by the regional board and allow the three city districts to get a third of the second half for their own projects.
Richland Mayor John Fox, however, said the idea behind the regional district is for the Tri-Cities to act as one community instead of three separate cities, and the goal of the regional project is to have a future facility to benefit the whole community.
"Conceptually, I don't support going back to individual public facility districts," Fox said. "I think the decision should remain here."
Saul Martinez, a Pasco councilman, said he thought the board needed to select an amount, then select a project so there's a clear vision to present to voters.
"We would get more support when it's specific to something, instead of saying basically let us be your bank and then we'll decide where it can be spent," he said.
The board's first major decision was made after getting a presentation from consultant Eric Hovee, who reviewed the four regional projects.
Hovee did not make a recommendation on any of the projects or on the sales tax proposal. He said all four projects are "potentially viable," but all four also still have many issues that need to be resolved.
He did, however, explain that with the smaller tax increase proposal the board would be limited in what it can do. If the board voted to collect the full amount, it would have collected about $85 million over the next 25 years.
It would cost about $100 million to pay for all four projects based on current estimates.
With the board's vote to seek a tenth of a percent sales tax increase, it will have to decide if it wants to move forward with one of the two big projects or support the two smaller projects.
From the conversation after the sales tax vote, the board appears to be leaning toward supporting the aquatics center project at Pasco's TRAC center, but there are still many questions to be answered.
Richland resident Ron Lerch told the board he was disappointed with their decision on the lower sales tax proposal.
"I don't think of it in terms of $100 million, I think of it in terms of $10 and what I'm going to pay is one cent or two cents for it ... ," Lerch said. "I was visualizing our community 10-20 years from now where we have four beautiful facilities supporting all our communities."
After the meeting, board President Matt Watkins said he was "excited because we made a decision." But, if the regional board does decide to support the aquatics center, the challenge will be to get some decisions made by the city of Pasco, Franklin County and the Pasco Facilities District, said Watkins, who is also Pasco's mayor.
A special meeting was set for June 27, and Watkins said he hopes the regional board will select a project at that meeting.
Based on a tentative timeline, the board is looking to place the sales tax measure on the November 2013 general election ballot.