A proposed Transportation Benefit District, which could lead the city to ask the voters for a sales tax increase to benefit roads, generated a healthy debate among council members but not a lot of comment from the public during a public hearing Wednesday night.
The Aberdeen City Council approved the second reading of the ordinance on a 9-1 vote. The benefit district would be created after passage of the third reading of the ordinance next month.
Councilman Jim Cook was the only one to vote against the measure.Voting in support were council members Frank Gordon, John Erak, Doug Paling, Tim Alstrom, Kathi Hoder, John Smith, Pete Schave, Jerry Mills and Jeff Cook.
Council members Alice Phelps and Margo Shortt were excused from the meeting.
Erak and Gordon both said they were thinking of voting against the measure, but said testimony from Public Works Director Larry Bledsoe changed their minds.
Bledsoe said that the benefit district is just the first step. The council must approve a separate resolution to send a sales tax hike to the voters. The exact sales tax amount would be figured out at that point. Bledsoe said he would also support a sunset clause on a sales tax so it would go away after five years or so. An earlier plan would have raised the sales tax by 0.13 percent to 8.53 percent.
“When it goes before a vote of the people, we also need a plan on how to move forward so the people know what they’re getting for their vote,” Bledsoe said.
Although he voted for the measure, Gordon said he would be more supportive of a countywide sales tax to benefit everybody and said he wishes the city would press the county commissioners more on the issue. Gordon is a Democratic candidate for county commissioner.
He’ll face Republican Allan Shores on the General Election ballot.
“I think we should work together as a team with the county and other entities rather than be a stand-alone entity,” Gordon said. “I think we should push it countywide rather than our own tiny, tiny city.”
“Frank, I understand you want us all to work together and I applaud you for that,” Hoder replied. “Sometimes it’s hard for me to swallow with what Grays Harbor County has done to the city of Aberdeen and showed my mayor zero respect. … The citizens of Aberdeen will say yes or no to this. Not us. They will decide. They ultimately have the last say so.”
Alstrom said other cities could form their own transportation benefit districts, if they wanted.
“The time is now, folks,” Paling said. “Look at our roads. I totally support this.”
Councilman Jeff Cook said he believes a sales tax impact will have the least financial impact on residents because everyone who shops in Aberdeen would pay it.
Although there was plenty of discussion among council members, only one member of the public testified during the public hearing, urging the council to support the Transportation Benefit District.