Federal Way City Council changes direction on Transportation Benefit District implementation

Federal Way residents may not have to pay an additional $15 fee on their car tabs after the City Council has backed away from that particular idea.

The Federal Way City Council failed to vote on whether to implement a proposed transportation benefit district following the second reading of Council Bill #720 at Tuesday’s meeting. The bill would have established a transportation benefit district and imposed an additional $15 fee on residents’ car tabs.

The anticipated $930,000 would have freed up funds elsewhere to help pay for nine additional police officers throughout this year and next.

Council members, who initially entertained the idea at a previous meeting, appeared to have a change of heart, and the proposal died for lack of a motion. Councilman Bob Celski said he had concerns about transportation district plan.

“First of all, I don’t particularly like the structure of a Transportation Benefit District,” Celski said. “I just think it removes the appearance of a level of responsibility of the council. Then, the second thing is I’m just not, at this point, and I think the council is not at this point, willing to put a new fee for car tabs in light of what’s happened with Sound Transit.”

With the passing of Sound Transit 3 in November, a $54 billion transportation package that will construct light rail throughout the region – including the Federal Way Link Extension – residents can expect to see higher car tab fees during their license renewals.

Celski said his regular $63 tab per car is now $349 – $286 of which went to Sound Transit.

“So, with sticker shock, we didn’t want to pile on additional fees to our taxpayers,” he said, adding that, despite his opposition to the Transportation Benefit District, he is in favor of hiring more police officers.

While Celski wasn’t on the council during its December vote for implementing a transportation benefit district as one way to free up funds for the police officers in the biennial budget, Councilman Mark Koppang was.

“We just didn’t understand the complete impact of ST3,” Koppang said, noting the cumulative effects of Sound Transit fees and the proposed $15 fee would have been substantial.

Councilwoman Susan Honda said she didn’t believe the council bill would have garnered any votes, but, she, along with Deputy Mayor Jeanne Burbidge, was concerned about the impact to residents from the combination of Federal Way’s proposed fees with Sound Transit’s.

“When it was first presented to us, it sounded like it was something we could work with, but at the end of that meeting, I expressed concerns with Sound Transit 3 and how it would impact our citizens,” Honda said.

During the first reading of the transportation benefit district bill, several community members passionately shot down the idea of a car tab increase and told stories of how the fees would impact their life.

Since then, Mayor Jim Ferrell has also spoken against the transportation benefit district.

While it was his addendum to the 2017-18 budget that sparked the quest for finding funds for nine police officers, his initial plan proposed taxing Lakehaven Utility District — a move the council and Lakehaven residents vehemently opposed because of concern the tax would turn into increased water and sewer fees.

A Lakehaven Utility Tax would have netted the city $1 million.

“They’re the only utility that doesn’t have (a) utility tax imposed on it,” Ferrell said, adding that collecting that tax would be a fair application. “But the council didn’t want to go with that approach and decided to go with the transportation benefit district.”

Ferrell is also concerned how the additional $15 car tab would impact Federal Way residents following Sound Transit’s increase.

“Once we started trying to set up a transportation benefit district, we started hearing a great deal of feedback from the community on that exact point,” he said. “Based on my concerns and mutually with the council, we took a step back.”

Ferrell said the city has enough funds in the budget with the admissions tax and business registration fees to fund two additional police officers. That number could go up to six if officials come up with additional funding and pair it with a COPS grant.

Ferrell said the city hasn’t abandoned funding the full nine officers, however.

The mayor and council will conduct study sessions to discuss revenue options, like the Lakehaven Utility Tax, as they move forward this biennium.

“We’re trying to make sure that our No. 1 responsibility in city government is to provide for the safety of our community, but it’s a balancing act, as well, to make sure taxation on our community isn’t overly burdensome,” Ferrell said.

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