The Board of Clark County's regional transit service heard public comment Tuesday on the pros and cons of a sales tax increase. The tax measure would maintain a light rail system over the new Columbia River Crossing. The Board has scheduled a July vote on whether to put the matter before voters.
Detractors of light rail continue to raise criticisms about cost.
Lynn Costello has appeared at several public meetings to object to the project. She said Tuesday night she doesn't feel the one-tenth of one percent sales tax is warranted, given how many people may use a new light rail system over the Columbia.
"Deliberately increasings costs to serve less than ten percent of the people who cross the bridge creates unnecessary costs, adds and establishes large gaps between public costs and public benefits."
But some business leaders and area residents also signed up to testify about why they think light rail would be beneficial.
Paul Montague is with the business development group, Identity Clark County. He says he supports the Columbia River Crossing project, and light rail as a component. But he also urged CTRAN's board members to make a strong statement, re-affirming their support for light rail.
"The business community doesn't have a clear answer of what your plan B will be. The real question I would pose to you today is to lay out what you're going to do on November 6th if the proposed sales tax fails."
Vancouver's City Council holds veto power on the CTRAN Board. The hearing Tuesday followed the City Council's approval Monday of a sales tax increase totaling one-tenth of one percent.
Councilman Larry Smith is also President of the CTRAN Board. He says the Vancouver council looked into a number of other funding options, including a business tax.
"After looking at that, probably not a good way to go. There's nothing there, unless you combine several different sources, which would take us time."
Smith says that's what fed the decision to return to the sales tax option, and recommend the CTRAN board move on it.
The vote has regional significance because of the pivotal role light rail may play in federal funding for the new Columbia River Crossing bridge. Congressional leaders have said it's unlikely the project can move forward without the cash that a mass transit component would bring.
Nonetheless, Southwest Washington voters have proven resistant to tax increases of any stripe.
In the end, the board voted unanimously to hold a vote on the November sales tax proposal at its next meeting, July 19th.
Some have predicted such a vote would be a tough sell.
But toward the end of the discussion, Battle Ground Councilman Bill Ganley offered an intriguing development that might help supporters of the sales tax gain the upper hand.
Ganley represents both his hometown and the city of Yacolt on the CTRAN board. He says Yacolt would like to opt out of any district-wide vote on a sales tax. Other board members mentioned that other towns like Ridgefield and LaCenter were closely divided about whether they should be part of such a vote.
If towns in rural areas peel off from the regional vote, the opposition may have a harder time getting traction.
CTRAN staff members say it's not clear whether an opt-out is possible. The board may hold another special meeting before July 19th to discuss the issue.