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Dec 07

Mayor's Update - December 7, 2018

Posted on December 7, 2018 at 9:21 AM by Joshua Stecker

Greetings friends and citizens of Gig Harbor. I have been troubled by Ordinance 1401 that council passed at the last council meeting. This relates to Traffic Impact Fees that developers pay when they build. We had not updated our fee structure for over 10 years. Meanwhile we are not getting the necessary funding for our roads and traffic. Our current rate per dwelling is roughly $2100.

An extensive study allowed us to raise it past $10,500. Some councilmembers wanted the fee very high while some wanted it very low. Other councilmembers wanted a balance that would provide funding while still allowing growth and a fair price. This is what I was hoping for as well. But for odd reasons the council voted for roughly $2800 - which will not even come close to solving the needs for our city and citizens.

As a result, I am vetoing the Ordinance (under the authority of RCW 35A.12.100) and bringing it back to council for the December 10th meeting with the hope that they will make the amount $5071.44 which will strike the balance many were working towards.

I am doing this for a couple of important reasons.  The first is that several councilmembers and I were elected to find ways to solve the City’s traffic problems. Thousands of voters asked for this.  I feel most of the Council was elected to financially try to solve our traffic needs. We do not have a separate road and traffic fund to pay for even $50 million or half of the projects listed in our TIF. The money is just not there. How can we match state funds when there isn’t the seed money there to match?  The Transportation Benefit District proposed to raise $16 million by increasing the sales tax by 0.2%, but it failed by less than 50 votes. We have to show our whole community that we are going to make our TIF projects concurrent with the growth and not when it is past the time to deal with it.  The TIF’s project list hasn’t been updated in over 10 years since 2007.

I started researching this before I was elected and found that the City did not have an adequate financial plan to pay for the needed transportation improvements.  This was a campaign promise to deal with our needs and not ignore it and have our community suffer.  It is what our supporters called for. Also, we are not a large city.  Traffic from everything that is built in our region affects our roads, including growth that comes in from surrounding communities.  We cannot divide our road projects into districts.

During 2017 and 2018, Council, staff, the public and I developed a defensible TIF project list to improve traffic now, as well as prevent gridlock in the future.  That said, the disagreement over the TIF project list led to an impasse at the last Council meeting. 

This leads me to the second reason I have decided to veto this ordinance.  I believe this impasse caused our Council to make a rash decision that was not fully thought out and resulted in an impact fee that would do little to fund the needed projects to ensure a functional transportation system. If I do not veto this and we don’t come up with a fair balance, we will lose millions of dollars that could have funded our roads. Much of the property that would fund these projects will be forever gone because it will already be constructed without the adequate fees to support our roads. Too little, too late.

Councilmember Himes did extensive research on the project list and made a valid argument for the removal of the Hunt Street crossing project from the TIF list.  I directed staff to review Councilmember Himes’ assessment and they concur that the project could be removed from the TIF list. When Council reconsiders the TIF after my veto, my recommendation is that council remove #10 the Hunt Street Crossing project and #12 the roundabout that might be considered associated with #10. By doing this the City would focus on the most immediate projects first while cutting the TIF almost in half from the original proposal. Instead of the original $93,625,000 it brings the project total down to $52,475,000. This would result in an impact fee that is both reasonable and could provide adequate funding for the remaining projects.  With removal of the Hunt project and the roundabout the new TIF would be $5,071.44. Months ago, a major developer in Gig Harbor even told me they could build and live with $5,500 - and this is less. Building will still occur, don’t be fooled into thinking that we will come to a halt. I hope council compromises from the extremes that have been proposed on both ends and approves a balanced TIF. We followed through with our 6-month moratorium and were responsible. Let’s wrap up 2018 showing this community that we are united and not in gridlock; that we are working to find the balance that we were elected to do. I feel the citizens will be proud of the Council for doing this.

Council has three proposed options for action at the December 10th meeting:

  • Override.  If on reconsideration a majority plus one of the whole membership of the council (5 councilmembers) vote in favor of Ordinance No. 1401, effectively overriding the veto, the ordinance will stand. 

  • Adopt amended ordinance.  Alternatively, on reconsideration of the original motion, any councilmember may move to amend the motion to adopt Ordinance No. 1401 with a revised the project list. 

  • No action.  Should the council not take action to override or amend, the veto will stand and the process for adopting a new transportation impact fee ordinance will come back to the City Council in 2019.

Please know that I do not take this action lightly and know its impact on Council and staff.  However, I was elected to do what is best for all citizens for Gig Harbor, and I believe this is what is best.