As the Nov. 8 election approaches, the Sammamish City Council still has not taken a formal position on whether it supports Sound Transit 3 (ST3). The topic is set for discussion at the Oct. 4 Council meeting.
Five of the seven members previously said they oppose ST3 as it currently is laid out. Two members, Kathy Huckabay and Bob Keller, support ST3 in the name of regionalism. While regionalism is an admirable goal, the plan needs to make sense. ST3 has serious flaws.
Even Mayor Don Gerend, who is a regionalist and represents Sammamish on many such committees, finds the ST3 plan so bad and so disadvantageous to Sammamish, that he declared his opposition to ST3.
As this column has reported several times, the $54bn plan doesn’t even guarantee a single project. It only guarantees that taxpayers will no longer have the power of the vote over new taxes. This power shifts solely to the ST board, which is comprised of appointed people not the least bit accountable to taxpayers.
ST3 proposes less bus service for Sammamish, which now is the second or third largest city on the Eastside.
ST3 says it will give Sammamish a north end park-n-ride. But as noted, this isn’t guaranteed.
For this reduction in service, removal of direct taxpayer authority over new taxes and a park-n-ride that may not even get built, Sammamish taxpayers get to pay between $500m and $550m over the next 25 years.
It’s overdue for the City Council to stand up and take a position.
Supporting ST3—or not—is a matter of the City Council setting the right priorities for the people they were elected to represent. They were not elected to represent the greater King County, nor Piece County nor Snohomish County—all part of the Sound Transit taxing district.
Any support for ST3, of course, should be conditioned on service to Sammamish. The Council understands this and advocates for this. But the ST3 planners and board ignored Sammamish needs.
Our Council members shouldn’t meekly acquiesce to a bad plan, which has many other flaws this column has pointed out aside from shafting Sammamish, and support ST3 in the name of regionalism, or being a team player, or in some hope that in the future ST officials might give something tangible to Sammamish.
ST1 and ST2 didn’t do much for Sammamish. Certainly the taxpayers haven’t received a good return on their investment. ST3 backtracks.
The Newcastle City Council and the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce already led the way in opposing ST3 for similar reasons.
Rather, it’s time for the City Council to look closer to home.
At the recent Open House over growth, residents complained about local transportation issues. Some urged the City to take on debt to solve these.
The Open House also talked about growth issues.
The call for debt for transportation solutions is remarkable.
Since the City was incorporated in 1999, every City Council avoided debt and taxes. Although more than $250m has been invested by the Council and City Administration into this community, much of this investment came at the expense of real solutions to transportation issues.
Several months ago, Council Member Tom Odell noted that it’s been 10 years since Sammamish really invested in roads. Today, this benign neglect is catching up. The most recent Six Year Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) had $100m worth of road projects in the “plan.”
Despite fears raised for years by Ramiro Valderrama, first as a Council Member and now as Deputy Mayor, over how this would be funded, two City Managers and successive City Councils have punted an answer.
Now it looks like there is no more time.
Current City Manager Lyman Howard, who dismissed concerns expressed by Valderrama and others (including this column) over the pricey TIP as only a “plan” and not a financial projection, increasingly warned in recent months that the day of reckoning is upon the Council.
Howard began warning at the January retreat that the long-discussed, often ignored “cross-over point”—the time when expenses exceed revenues—is coming and more money sources will be needed.
He’s suggested debt. He’s pointed to the option of raising the City’s property tax by the allowed 1% each year. (This would yield peanuts in the scheme of things, however; only a couple of hundred thousand dollars per year.) He’s also pointed to the prospect of a utility tax. He’s gingerly pointed to the potential of assuming one or both water districts, with their large revenue receipts.
Odell acknowledged that a tax hike is likely to be needed.
Former City Council Member Lee Fellinge, a strong fiscal conservative, last year worried about the lack of long-term financial planning and vision in the face of a growing list of transportation and other projects.
Howard is now beginning the budget planning for the next two years. Draft proposals will be ready for the City Council in the next 60 days.
Based on his warnings and comments, it looks like new revenue (taxes) or debt will be a part of the budget.
ST3 or local projects
With this context, the taxpayers of Sammamish face a choice in November: vote for a 25-year tax package of $500m-$550m for ST3, with worse service for Sammamish and maybe a one-half billion-dollar park-n-ride to show for it—not to mention taxation without representation or accountability—or hope that ST3 will fail and redirect the new taxes and put it toward local City projects.
The City Council needs to do some navel-gazing and decide what is the priority: King, Piece and Snohomish County. Or the City of Sammamish.
Sammamish taxpayers would get more bang for their buck if officials can figure out if tax dollars can be pooled with Issaquah, Redmond, the State and King County (the latter notwithstanding it is broke) to improve the choke points through which Sammamish drivers have to go.