Transit agency runs short of bus money
Times Snohomish County bureau
Everett Transit will run out of money in a year if new funds aren't found to bolster the city bus service's dwindling revenue, officials say.
Today, the City Council is expected to vote on a resolution to put a proposition on the Sept. 14 ballot asking voters to increase Everett Transit's share of sales taxes, which help fund the city's bus and paratransit service. The council will meet at 8:30 a.m. at 3002 Wetmore Ave.
Under the proposal, voters would be asked to pay an additional 3 cents on every $10 purchase made in Everett. Currently, Everett consumers pay an 8.3 percent sales tax, and if this measure were approved, they would pay 8.6 percent.
The rest of the sales taxes are divvied up among the state, the city and Sound Transit.
Councilman Mark Olson said he believes the council will approve the resolution, and he hopes Everett residents will do the same in September.
"I have talked with my colleagues on the council, and I would be surprised if this doesn't pass unanimously," Olson said. "This tax measure is vital to continue independent and self-sustaining operations."
This is the first increase Everett Transit has asked for since 1978, when voters approved a 0.3 percent sales tax — which is part of the 8.3 percent sales tax — for transit service.
If Everett Transit maintains its current level of service and doesn't find additional funds, it would spend all of its operational budget and its reserve by June 2005, said Paul Kaftanski, transportation-services director for Everett Transit. The agency lost revenue after the 1999 passage of state Initiative 695, which cut the cost of auto licenses.
"If this measure doesn't pass, we would have to consider reducing our service levels," Kaftanski said.
In 2000, Everett Transit had $5 million in reserve; by the end of this year, it will have about $500,000 in reserve, Kaftanski said.
The transit agency's revenue has not kept pace with its costs, he said.
Paratransit costs have increased 172 percent since 1994, and labor costs have increased, he said. Yet fewer purchases are being made in the city because of the economic downturn, so transit is receiving less money from sales taxes, he said.
In 2000, Everett Transit received $7.1 million in sales taxes, and this year it is expected to collect $6.6 million, Kaftanski said.
Everett Transit has already reduced service in recent years, he said.
In 1994, Everett Transit provided riders with 90,000 hours of fixed-route bus service; this year, it will provide 84,000 hours, Kaftanski said. Meanwhile, the demand for paratransit services has escalated. From 2002 to 2003, there was a 50 percent increase in paratransit ridership, Kaftanski said.
Paratransit provides door-to-door service for people with disabilities or anyone 62 or older.
Merging with Community Transit, which provides bus service to most Snohomish County cities and to much of the county's unincorporated area, would cost Everett residents more, Mayor Ray Stephanson said.
Consumers living in Community Transit's service area pay a 0.9 percent sales tax for its service. If it merged with Everett Transit, Everett residents would have to pay that higher sales tax.
"There might be some ways we can work together to be more efficient," Stephanson said.
Martin Munguia, a spokesman for Community Transit, said the agency is open to working with Everett Transit.
"We are open to exploring ways to collaborate, but we will be taking the lead from Everett," Munguia said.
Community Transit had considered merging with Everett Transit in the past, but those efforts failed, largely because Everett residents and officials didn't seem to want the merger, he said.
Voters approved an increase in Community Transit's sales-tax share from 0.6 to 0.9 percent in 2002. Before that, the agency was also struggling financially and had cut service. The increase in sales taxes gave Community Transit the money to boost service 15 percent above what it had been before the cuts, he said.
Rachel Tuinstra: 425-783-0674 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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