PRCAC endorses gas tax expenditures

Samantha Scholefield addressing members of the PRCAC.                                   Photo by Pat Grubb

Members of the Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee (PRCAC) have unanimously endorsed the concept of an 80-20 split of annual gas tax revenues to fund big and small projects.

The current balance of the transportation benefit district (TBD) fund for Point Roberts stands at just under $1 million and is estimated to increase by approximately $20,000 per month, said chair Jeff Christopher at the July 10 PRCAC meeting. “That has been steadily increasing given the gap in the fuel prices between Tsawwassen and Point Roberts,” he said. The TBD collects a 1 cent per-gallon tax on gasoline sales in Point Roberts to fund transportation related projects.

The motion proposed by Christopher was for 80 percent of the TBD funds collected to be “tracked for leveraging large scale projects” while 20 percent would be used for smaller projects.

The committee agreed on a procedure for vetting potential smaller projects, including consulting with the boards of the three-member organizations: Point Roberts Registered Voters’ Association, Point Roberts Taxpayers’ Association and Point Roberts Chamber of Commerce. “No monies of that 20 percent will go toward projects public works should be paying for,” Christopher said.

Once PRCAC has selected a project it will need to go before county council, which serves as the governing board of the TBD. On June 19, acting on a PRCAC recommendation, county council approved establishing expenditure authority for TBD funds to be used for the maintenance of the Tyee Drive streetscape installed as a collaboration between county public works and the Point Roberts Garden Club.

Christopher, speaking as the representative for the taxpayers’ association, said they had “a long list” of smaller projects, and on the top of it was “the completion of the long-stalemated Lighthouse Park continuum,” a walking path along Marine Drive.

For more substantial projects, Christopher said they would like to look into the possibility of widening Benson Road,  adding a sidewalk east of Tyee Drive and the replacement of the Maple Beach seawall with a natural berm similar to what is planned for Birch Bay.

Audience member Samantha Scholefield said she was happy to see a framework for putting the gas tax funds to use. “I’m very much in support of this idea because the gas tax fund has been under discussion for 10 years with no action, so it’s good to see some action.” The TBD was created in 1991. According to the state auditor, there have been no expenditures in the fund between 2010 and now except for $20,623 in 2013.

While the garbage question may not be on the agenda for the Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee (PRCAC) anymore, community members speaking in open session are continuing to push for a lower minimum service level.

When Whatcom County Council voted June 5 to approve code changes that would eliminate exemptions to mandatory garbage pickup, they also approved a minimum service collection level for all developed properties in Point Roberts: two 32-gallon cans per month or 26 cans per year.

“I strongly believe the mandate that has gone forward to county council is an over service,” Samantha Scholefield said at the July 10 PRCAC meeting. Scholefield said Vancouver, with a 1 percent vacancy rate, has a 26 can per year minimum service level. “There is absolutely no way Point Roberts requires the same basic level of service as Vancouver,” she said.

Allison Calder said curbside collection at the minimum service level approved by county council would theoretically generate 700 tons of garbage more than the current hauler Cando Recycling and Disposal reported removing from all sources to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) for 2017.

Reducing the minimum service level to twelve 32-gallon cans per years, she said, “would account for 75 percent of the total garbage produced in Point Roberts in 2017, not counting construction waste.” It should represent a sufficient increase in waste volume to assure vendor stability and stop illegal disposal, she added.

Scholefield, Calder and others in the audience want to see the minimum service level set at either one 32- or 20-gallon can per month. “I’ve never been given a solid answer for how this level of service was determined (a 32-gallon can every-other-week),” Scholefield said.

The level of service was decided on by PRCAC members at their October 2017 meeting. Jeff Hegedus with the Whatcom County health department said that the difference in cost per property between one and two 32-gallon cans per month according the current tariff approved by the WUTC was $4.

Committee members agreed the higher level of service was appropriate given the minimal cost difference to meet the goals of the solid waste initiative: reducing illegal disposal, addressing odor and vermin issues, and ensuring vendor stability. “Maybe my house puts out two cans a month and yours puts out two but we’re all contributing to a system that serves our community,” said committee member Linda Hughes.

PRCAC members listened, but did not indicate any intention of revisiting the minimum service levels or other aspects of the council approved plan. “When this (eliminating exemptions to mandatory garbage collection) was initially brought to us two years ago it started as an idea that we asked the community if they would be interested in,” Hughes said. “There was a sensible pattern of input and a lot of changing of the plan. This is something we made together, all of us, and I’m sorry if there are some people who came late to the game and felt they weren’t represented.”

Contacted after the meeting, Hegedus said, “Things are moving forward with improving service levels up there, including our submission of a significant supplemental budget request to make capital improvements to the transfer station this year, independent of the curbside issue.”

PRCAC has another month in their self-imposed timeline to recreate the disbanded solid waste subcommittee following the committee’s own template: one representative from each of the three member organizations and two at-large representatives.

PRCAC member Keith Glading said so far they had received only one application for the at-large positions and Christopher encouraged Scholefield, Calder and other former members of the subcommittee to reapply. “I would love to have you onboard,” he said.

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