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Bremerton goes alone on car tab issue

While the Kitsap County Commissioners continue their discussions about a possible countywide car tab increase, the Bremerton City Council already has its plan mapped out.

The latest round of talks on the recently approved motor vehicle excise tax increase took place on Sept. 18 before the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council’s transportation policy board pondered the issue on Sept. 19.

“The county has a different set of needs,” city public works director Phil Williams said. “Our recommendation to you is that you not participate in a countywide issue.”

The city council can impose up to a $20 car tab increase without voter approval through the formation of a Transportation Benefit Authority board, and the council could be that board, Williams said.

That board could draw the authority’s boundaries as the city limits, which means only vehicles registered within the city would be impacted by the $20 increase, he said.

The funds generated through increase would go to improving and maintaining the city’s streets instead of constructing new ones, he said.

Because of the unlikelihood that the city could bring all of its streets up to a certain level at one time, the increase could remain indefinitely or until the council voted to remove it, he said.

Any increase above the $20 limit would have to be approved by voters in a special election, he said.

“I think it’s pretty good to get the $20 and put together a project and get something done with it,” he said. “If you need to go back and ask for more, then you have a track record to fall back on.”

The recent polling done by the city has shown that most people are in favor of doing something to improve the city’s streets and most don’t have a problem with a $20 car tab increase, Williams said.

If the council were to decide to authorize that increase, a public information campaign would have to proceed it, Council President Will Maupin said.

“It’s obvious a lot of people don’t know what’s going on and think the $20 car tab is a done deal,” Maupin said.

The county’s possible plans to exceed the $20 threshold must go out to the voters and it will most likely fail, Maupin said.

“The county is probably going to hit first,” Councilman Nick Wofford said. “If it fails, it will be hard for us to go over our $20.”

Another drawback to joining in any countywide effort is the loss of local control, Councilwoman Wendy Priest said.

“I think we should go it alone,” Priest said. “I think local control will be really important.”

The earliest the council could formally take up the issue is Jan. 22, 2008, Williams said.

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