0.1 percent sales tax increase for transit on this year’s ballot

In the wake of state funding decreases and massive service cuts, Grays Harbor County voters will be asked to consider a measure that could determine the fate of the Grays Harbor Transit system.

The ballot measure would increase the county-wide sales tax by 0.1 percent, with proceeds going to the transit system. New revenue would total about $855,000 per year, according to Mark Carlin, general manager for Grays Harbor Transit.

The transit system cut all weekend service in early September after its board members decided it was the best way to solve the agency’s financial woes. Grays Harbor Transit had been outspending revenues by about $800,000 per year.

Carlin said the 0.1 percent sales tax increase is essential to maintaining transit operations, and impacts of the measure failing could be devastating.

“If it doesn’t (pass) we’re in real trouble,” Carlin said. “If that thing does fail, depending on how these cuts work, the question will be whether we need to start cutting weekday service. I don’t even want to think about that.”

Karen Stites, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1765, is heading up the campaign for the measure, and said she expects it to pass. She and a group of supportive citizens manned a table at the recent Grand Elks Parade at Loggers Playday, and people seemed to support the measure.

“I kind of have some good feelings because a lot of people stopped by the table and said they’d vote for it,” Stites said. “We passed out quite a few signs, too.”

“I just really hope it passes for the people,” she added. “I know it’s been rough.”

But Stites said a 0.1 percent sales tax increase won’t necessarily be enough to restore weekend service — it might just be a “Band-Aid” that prevents service from disintegrating further. She and Carlin both said they’re looking for more state funding to ease some of Grays Harbor Transit’s financial stress. Increased retail spending on the Harbor would also help matters.

“We keep hoping our sales tax revenue will improve,” Carlin said. “But it just hasn’t. It’s just stayed flat, which really surprises me because it seems like there have been lots of tourists coming to town, but I guess they haven’t been spending that much money.”

“The college is starting construction on their new building, so we’re hoping that using local contractors and buying supplies locally will help us out revenue-wise,” he added.

For now, Carlin is trying to stave off weekday cuts, which would have a large impact on Grays Harbor College and the local workforce. He said he hopes to keep service to the college running every half hour, and those are some of the agency’s most popular routes.

Grays Harbor County ballots will be mailed out by Oct. 18 and must be postmarked by Nov. 5. The last day to register to vote online is Oct. 7 and the last day to register in person is Oct. 28.