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Bremerton car tax passes after balked budget vote

Greg Skinner/staff photo Members of “Cut the Fat” protest proposed city layoffs during Bremerton City Council deliberations on the 2012 budget. The council voted Dec. 7 to charge a $20 tax on cars to fund some streets’ employees. - Greg Skinner
Greg Skinner/staff photo Members of “Cut the Fat” protest proposed city layoffs during Bremerton City Council deliberations on the 2012 budget. The council voted Dec. 7 to charge a $20 tax on cars to fund some streets’ employees.
— image credit: Greg Skinner

The Bremerton City Council cashed in Dec. 7 when they voted to raise more than a million dollars in taxes before failing to vote on the budget they sought the money to pay for.

The four-hour meeting left the council calling for rest in order to clear their minds before taking action on the proposed 2012 budget, which sought to layoff 14 workers.

Immediately after suspending their regular meeting, the council convened a “special meeting,” for which they gave just 24 hours notice, on plans to create a new citywide car tax

Acting as the city’s transportation committee, the council voted 5-4 to charge city residents a $20 tax for every vehicle in the city, the maximum allowed without a vote of the people by state law. The measure, which previously failed council vote and a vote of the people, passed on District 7 Council member Carol Arends swing vote.

Later, Arends said she felt that the poorest citizens of the city did not have cars, so they would not be adversely affected by the tax and that she wanted to save some of the jobs set for defunding in the 2012 budget.

District 2 Councilmember Cecil McConnell continued his opposition to the tax as one of the no votes.

“It’s not the Christmas present I want to give to Bremerton,” McConnell said. “It’s time we live within our means and quit pushing it off on the tax payer.”

The proposed Street Fund budget for 2012 is $2.13 million before the council added the car tax.

Half of the total $1.3 million in city tax increases, which included property, parking and utilities, approved early that night will be funneled into the Street Fund, which has been described as “mismanaged.”

During an early neighborhood meeting, District 4, Councilmember Roy Runyon laughingly said,  “Ask the former director,” when City Finance director Becky Hasart was presented a question asking how the city’s Street Fund got into trouble. Hasart said the Street Fund was mismanaged before the previous director of public works resigned.

Runyon, who offered the tax at $15 and was behind the city’s increased taxing of two flush water utility accounts and the parking tax in effort to add nearly $1 million to the 2012 budget, acknowledged his record of previously opposing a city car tax. Before winning the vote, he said the street grid has worsened during his four years in office.

“Streets are important to the fabric of society,” Runyon said. “Pave street. Fill pot holes.”

District 3 Councilmember Adam Brockus disagrees with Hasart’s claim of mismanagement and blamed the messy street funding on cuts in state money and the down economy. Brockus admitted not fully understanding how the street fund works, but said be knows the “big numbers.”

The new car tax is expected to raise more than $330,000 annually, which will likely be spent entirely to reemploy workers expected to be cut under the proposed 2012 budget presented by Mayor Patty Lent. Collection is expected to begin next summer.

The ordinance overcame one attempt to delay the vote. Council President Will Maupin offered  the amendment changing the tax from $15 to 20$ saying he thought that the county would seek the additional $5 taxable under law if left open by the city.

“We should do $20,” he said.

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