Aberdeen OKs transportation district, may ask voters for tax hike to fix roads

The Aberdeen City Council created a Transportation Benefit District on Wednesday, which seems likely to lead the city to ask voters to approve a sales tax increase for the purpose of fixing streets.

Aberdeen City Councilman Tim Alstrom said the council will in no way impose a tax on the people without voter support. A separate resolution would need to be approved to get the measure on the ballot. Alstrom has floated February as a possible date for an election.

The council could ask for a sales tax hike as high as two-tenths of 1 percent, bringing the city’s sales tax to 8.6 percent. An earlier plan would have raised the sales tax by 0.13 percent to 8.53 percent, and that plan is still a possibility. Those details still need to be worked out.

The measure passed on a 7-3 vote with Council members Alice Phelps. Kathi Hoder and John Erak voting against the measure. Council members Alstrom, Jeff Cook, Doug Paling, John Smith, Margo Shortt, Pete Schave, and Jerry Mills voted for the measure. Councilman James Cook was absent and Councilman Frank Gordon abstained. City Councilwoman Alice Phelps says that if the voters approve a sales tax, the city of Aberdeen would have the highest sales tax rate in all of Grays Harbor and those few dollars difference could make residents leave the city to buy cars elsewhere.

Alstrom noted that Olympia had an 8.7 percent sales tax already.

Hoder said she couldn’t support the measure because it’s possible the city could increase utility rates later this year. She didn’t want to anger voters by hurting their pocket books even more.

“For the best interest of Aberdeen, this is the way to go,” Councilman Jeff Cook said, pointing to 8th Street near his house, where large cracks in the road can be seen and grass is actually growing in the cracks.

“Maybe we need a sign at the entrance of the city that says ‘Drive at your own risk in Aberdeen,’” Hoder said.

Councilman Gordon said he abstained because he believes the proper fix for roads is a regionwide approach starting with Grays Harbor County. Gordon, who is running for county commissioner, pledged to make the issue a priority should he win.

Gordon is facing retired PUD worker Allan Shores in the November election.

Steven Friederich, a Daily World writer, can be reached at 537-3927, or by email at sfriederich@thedailyworld.com