Frequently Asked Questions

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Browse through the list of frequently asked questions or select a question from the list below.  If your question is not answered below, then feel free to ask us a question.

Why is the City asking voters to decide this neighborhood street improvements and safety upgrades proposition on the November general election ballot?

Citizens have told City officials to make streets and roads a top priority... Basic maintenance and repair of city and neighborhood streets has been a top concern expressed in City surveys, by citizen task forces and from residents during last year’s community conversations on city budget priorities.

City roads and streets are among the worst in Washington…
Communities use a systematically derived Network Score to rate condition of transportation networks. Tacoma’s score is lower - almost half – of the scores in nearby and other comparable communities. In 2012, Tacoma spent $17 per person on street maintenance as opposed to a $27 national average based on ICMA data.

Tacoma citizens task force recommendations… For two years, citizen volunteers have examined the City’s road issues and possible solutions. They recommended that we identify dedicated and sustainable funding sources to address the growing needs and focus any new funds on school safety, residential road maintenance and arterial maintenance. 

Dedicated and sustainable funding for streets and safety upgrades…
If approved by voters, the additional 2 percent would provide $10 to $11 million annually – sustainable funding to help us address the backlog of needs.

If approved by voters, what city transportation improvements and safety upgrades would be addressed by the additional dedicated funds?

Basic neighborhood streets maintenance and repairs… Sustainable funding for City road and bridge improvements, repairs to neighborhood streets and arterials city-wide, pothole and pedestrian sidewalk repairs on local streets, improved signal timing to keep traffic moving, and coordination of the timing of road repairs with water and sewer improvements.

City road, arterials and bridge safety upgrades… Sustainable funding for added safety crosswalks near schools, making intersections and crosswalks safer for pedestrians, street and arterial maintenance and permanent pothole repairs for safer travel, basic maintenance of city-owned bridges to keep them safe and neighborhood streets and road safety upgrades city-wide.

Sole purpose of funding is dedicated to street improvements… Funds would be dedicated to basic maintenance of neighborhood streets, dedicated to city roads, dedicated to arterial and bridge repairs, dedicated to pothole repairs and other basic maintenance, dedicated to improved signal timing to keep traffic moving, dedicated to sidewalks and intersections and dedicated to safety improvements to crosswalks near schools.

What specific improvements will be funded over the next five years with dedicated funding for neighborhood streets and safety upgrades?

Safety improvements near schools
  • 46 school zones would get improvements sooner, such ADA-accessible crosswalks and school zone flashing beacons, completing backlogged efforts to provide school zone improvements at Tacoma schools.

Pothole repairs

  • Funding for 18,000 additional permanent pothole repairs – doubling what we do now based on current costs.

Neighborhood street improvements

  • The City would have funding to repave/resurface 510 residential blocks – more than doubling what we do now based on current costs.
  • Funding for 12 backlogged neighborhood Local Improvement District projects where residents have already agreed to partner with the City and pay a significant portion of the cost.
  • Provide matching funds for utility projects so that street improvements can be coordinated with water and sewer improvements.

Major streets and arterials

  • 70 intersections would get traffic signal detection repairs sooner to synchronize intersections, decrease congestion and keep traffic moving.
  • Restriping all center and turn lanes every year – currently lanes get repainted every other year.
  • The City knows how to stretch its transportation dollars - in 2013, for every dollar the City spends it’s receiving $2.28 in matching capital project funds. A portion of this funding will help to secure additional grant funds for arterials, making your dollars go even further. While the City successfully competed for more than $300 million in grant funds for Tacoma road and bridge projects over the last five years, the type of basic neighborhood street maintenance that the majority of Proposition 1 would support rarely qualifies for grants.

Map of proposed work: (View the map and project list)Proposition 1 map with markers and legend

Legend

70 Intersections with Traffic Signal Repairs
Marker for traffic signal updates
46 School Zone Improvements
Marker for traffic signal updates
12 Local Improvement District Projects
Marker for traffic signal updates
510 Neighborhood Street Blocks Resurfaced

What will the financial impact of Proposition 1 be, if passed by voters?

Revenue by type of utility chart
  • This would be an additional two percent tax on utility company earnings… That means an additional two percent tax on the gross earnings of natural gas, electric and phone utility companies – amounting to an estimated $10 to $11 million annually dedicated to neighborhood streets improvements and road safety upgrades.
  • Cost may be passed along… Utility companies may choose to pass this cost increase on to their customers through their rates, though City Council would have to approve any Tacoma Power rate change.  
  • Less than $5 per month… Even if the full cost is passed along to ratepayers in the future, the combined cost to the average household would be about $4.70 per month.
  • Tacoma Power taxes are significantly lower… Average electricity rates for residential and commercial customers are more than 30 percent lower than the other major electricity provider in our area. If Proposition 1 is approved by voters and if each utility requests and receives approval to pass this increase on to customers, the estimated cost to the average Tacoma household will be less than $5 per month. Tacoma Power residential and commercial customers will still have rates that, on average, are 30 percent less than customers served by other regional electricity utilities.

What do both Tacoma Power and the City have to say about potential rate increases?

The City of Tacoma and Tacoma Public Utilities have issued the following joint statement in regards to Proposition 1:

"The proposal is an increase in the tax on gross revenues of Tacoma Power from 6 percent to 8 percent. If approved by the voters, this additional expense to the utility will, as with all utility expenses, be considered in developing future utility rates. Under the City Charter, rate changes are initiated by the Utility Board, and must be presented to the City Council for approval. Both the Utility Board and City Council are committed to exploring options to mitigate the impact to ratepayers."

Are there big-picture considerations?

More improvements before costs increase… If approved, the measure would allow for more basic maintenance and improvements to more streets, arterials and pothole repairs – more can be done before costs increase in the future.

Costs less now to repair than to replace in future… If approved, the measure would allow us to begin making a greater amount of basic maintenance and street repairs. Deferring maintenance leads to having to replace the entire street, which can be 14 times more expensive.

Creates jobs… If approved, the measure would create hundreds of new private sector jobs year after year as estimated by federal transportation infrastructure statistics. In addition, the City's Local Employment and Apprenticeship Training Program (LEAP) requires that road ans street construction projects over $250,000 use at least 15 percent labor provided by Pierce County/Tacoma residents. However, if utility rates are increased as a result of this proposition, local businesses and corporations would be subject to these rates.

What is the ballot language for the issue that Tacoma voters will decide?

CITY OF TACOMA
SPECIAL ELECTION – PROPOSITION NO. 1
2% UTILITY COMPANY EARNINGS TAX
FOR TACOMA STREET IMPROVEMENTS

The City of Tacoma adopted Substitute Resolution No. 38700 concerning an additional 2% earnings tax on utility companies for streets. If passed, Proposition No. 1 would authorize the City to levy an additional 2% earnings tax on natural gas, electric and phone companies for the sole purpose of funding basic maintenance and safety upgrades City-wide, for roads, arterials and bridges; permanent pothole repairs; pedestrian safety improvement to crosswalks near schools, sidewalks, and intersections; repaving neighborhood streets; and improved signal timing, all as provided in Substitute Resolution 38700. Should Proposition No. 1 be enacted into law?

How do you exercise your right to vote and decide this issue?

  • Ballots must be postmarked to the Pierce County Auditor’s Office by November 5, 2013. Ballots may also be dropped off at one of several locations throughout the City until 8 p.m. on Election Day:
    • NE Police Substation - 4731 Norpoint Way, Tacoma, WA 98422  
    • Parkland Library - 13718 Pacific Ave South, Tacoma, WA 98444 
    • Kandle Park Police Substation - 5140 North 26th St., Tacoma, WA 98407
    • 72nd Street Transit Center - 1319 East 72nd St., Tacoma, WA 98404
    • Pierce County Annex - 2401 S 35th St., Tacoma, WA 98409
    • Pierce County Community Connections - 3602 Pacific Ave, Tacoma, WA 98418
    • Tacoma Area Coalition of Individuals with Disabilities - 6315 South 19th St., Tacoma, WA 98406   
    • Tacoma Dome Park & Ride - 610 Puyallup Ave., Tacoma, WA 98421 
    • Pierce County Election Center - 2501 South 35th St. Tacoma, WA 98409
  • Active military may register to vote up until election ballot collection closes.
  • Is this tax appropriate for funding City services?

    Taxes are designed to ensure that everyone shares the challenge of providing and paying for general community services. Businesses, for example, pay business and operations taxes and residents pay property and sales taxes. Utilities pay utility earnings taxes. State law grants municipalities, like Tacoma, the right to levy utility company earnings taxes to generate revenue. State law allows taxes on local utilities, such as water, sewer, cable TV, garbage and recycling to be used for any government purpose. In fact, utility earnings taxes, such as the one proposed, currently support local services by providing about 23 percent of Tacoma’s total general government budget. In Washington State, electric, natural gas and phone utilities may only be charged up to a 6 percent tax, unless voters approve a higher rate – which is the question Tacoma citizens will decide.

     

    What are the City of Tacoma’s transportation maintenance responsibility?

    • 8,610 residential street blocks
    • 857 lanes miles of arterial streets
    • 75,000 street signs
    • 21,000 streetlights
    • 335 traffic signals
    • 245 school crosswalks
    • 160 flashing pedestrian safety beacons
    • 159 school zones 
    • 41 miles of bicycle infrastructure

    How do Tacoma roads compare?

    Communities use a systematically derived Network Score to rate condition of transportation networks.  Tacoma’s score is lower - almost half – of the scores in nearby and other comparable communities.

    In 2012, Tacoma spent $17 per person on street maintenance as opposed to a $27 national average based on ICMA data.
     How Tacoma roads compare to other cities
    How Tacoma roads compare Nationally
    This content changed on 8/26/2013 to reflect more recent information.

    How much did putting this measure on the ballot cost the City?

    City residents are benefiting from the fact that the November 2013 General Election ballot already contains a council election, which means that voters will consider the proposal at no additional taxpayer cost.

    How do Tacoma utility rates compare?

    Most, about 74 percent of the revenue would come from electric utilities, 11 percent from natural gas utilities and 15 from telephone utilities. As of April 2013, Tacoma Power’s rates are more than 30 percent lower than most other electric rates in the region for residential, commercial and industrial customers. If this two percent increase is approved by voters and if Tacoma Power does receive City Council authorization to pass this cost on to customers, rates could increase by two percent, remaining significantly lower overall than other comparable utilities in the region.

    Tacoma Power

    Puget Sound Energy

    Seattle City Light

    Snohomish County PUD

    Residential 1

    $71

    $95 (+32%)

    $72 (+0%)

    $83 (+16%)

    Residential 2

    $122

    $171 (+39%)

    $140 (+14%)

    $147 (+20%)

    Small Commercial

    $694

    $907 (+31%)

    $621 (-11%)

    $756 (+9%)

    Large Commercial

    $32,354

    $54,538 (69%)

    $35,602 (+10%)

    $45,831 (+42%)

    High Voltage Industrial

    $234,951

    $405,579 (+73%)

    $319,004 (+36%)

    $356,519 (+52%)

    What processes are we using to address our transportation funding and prioritization issue?

    Road and safety improvements have been a concern and priority for citizens and city council for the past several years. Over the last two years we have had two citizen groups examining this issue. The first, the Mobility Stakeholder Funding Task Force formed in 2011, considered funding sources and the second, the Citizens Neighborhood Streets Improvement and Safety Task Force formed in 2012, considered how funds should be spent if funding become available. These task forces consisted of representatives from each Council district, neighborhood councils, business, small business, labor, industry, disabilities community, Port of Tacoma, Tacoma School District, and the Bicycle and Pedestrian Action Committee. The next step in the process is to allow voters decide when they exercise their vote in the November 5, 2013 General Election. Voters have several months of informed public discussion to decide if this is how they want to pay for neighborhood street improvement and safety upgrades.

    Will there be funding review?

    To provide citizen involvement in decision-making processes, including those made regarding any new funding sources, the City has recently created a Transportation Commission, which came from a citizen group recommendation. This group is made up of eleven representatives; one from each of the City's five council districts and those with experience in professional engineering, construction/private business, bike and pedestrian/mass transit, planning/urban growth, environmental/sustainability, ADA issues and the general community.

    How does the TBD play into this and will these combined funds be enough? 

    The City’s current street and road work is funded through a variety of sources and including the new Transportation Benefit District (TBD) which contributes about $2.6 million each year to support street operations. But these funds alone are not enough to solve Tacoma’s road issues. In fact, the citizen groups considering these issues recommended that diverse funding sources, including the TBD funds, be combined to provide a long-term Tacoma solution. Proposition 1, which would double the City’s current street operations funding levels to help deal with basic maintenance, could be another piece of the solution. Yet, with a significant transportation project backlog, it is likely that additional funding sources will need to be discussed in the future.

    2013-2014 Biennial Budget (Two Years Combined)
    Street Operations Division - Public Works Department
    Motor Vehicle Tax $3,805,354
    Real Estate Excise Tax $5,760,000
    Transportation Benefit District $4,098,489
    Contribution from General Fund $7,731,910
    Total $21,395,753

    What types of utilities would this apply to?

    All utilities in Tacoma are currently taxed. Proposition 1 would increase that tax by two percent on electricity, natural gas and land/mobile telephone utilities only and be dedicated for street improvements and safety upgrades. Per the current City charter, utility taxes can’t exceed eight percent and all other utilities in the City of Tacoma are already being taxed at that level, so there would be no change sewer, garbage, water, rail, or cable TV utilities.

    Utility Type

    Electricity

    Telephone

    Natural Gas

    Rate

    6% would change to 8%

    6% would change to 8%

    6% would change to 8%

    Is there low-income assistance available?

    This is a tax on utility companies, not individual customers. However, if the tax is passed along to households, there are several programs available to help lower-income customers pay their energy (electricity and natural gas) bills. Eligibility for these programs is based on monthly income. Tacoma Public Utilities and the City of Tacoma offer a 30 percent discount rate program for lower income residential customers who are 62 years-of-age or older or disabled adults receiving disability income. There is also a utility assistance program for lower income residential customers, which is available once in a 12-month period. Puget Sound Energy also has several low-income assistance programs available based on monthly income. For more information on these programs, visit MyTPU's Payment Assistance or Puget Sound Energy's Low-Income Assistance Program.

     

    What streets funding have Tacoma voters funded in the past?

    Tacoma voters have not approved a transportation funding ballot measure since 1968. In November of 2006, the City of Tacoma placed a measure on the ballot that would have raised Tacoma property taxes and generated $8 million per year, for six years for resident street maintenance. That particular ballot measuret failed 51.81 percent to 48.19 percent.

    Has this been done before?

    Multiple cities in Washington have received voter approval to increase these utility taxes above six percent for specific purposes. The City of Pullman, whose total rate is 8 percent, has dedicated two percent for street improvements since 1998.

    Will this apply to earnings generated outside of the City of Tacoma?

    Yes – but to a lesser extent, if the cost is passed along. Tacoma Power customers living inside and outside of Tacoma city limits already pay this tax, so the increase would apply similarly. If the full cost of the additional two percent tax is passed along, the average Tacoma Power residential customer located outside of city limits would only be impacted on their electricity bill. This would cost about $2.44 more per month for those without natural gas and about $1.42 more per month for those with natural gas. Based on Tacoma Power’s biennium budget, 48 percent of Tacoma Power’s revenue comes from inside the City of Tacoma city limits and 52 percent comes from outside. This tax does not apply to private utility earnings generated outside of City limits - such as natural gas and telephone earnings.

    How did the City of Tacoma state the effect of this measure if passed into law for submitting this question to the voters?

    To file a ballot question with the Pierce County Auditor's Office, an explanatory statement must be provided. The City of Tacoma provided the following for the Nov. 5, 2013 Proposition 1 issue:"The citizens of Tacoma have consistently identified the condition of City roads as a major concern. Proposition No. 1 would provide dedicated funding for basic City-wide street maintenance and safety upgrades. The funds will be used for the sole purpose of increasing maintenance and repairs to roads, arterials, and bridges; making permanent pothole repairs on local streets; adding flashing beacons and safety crosswalks near neighborhood schools; making pedestrian safety upgrades to neighborhood sidewalks and intersections; repaving neighborhood streets; adding signal timing to improve traffic flow; coordinating road repairs with water and sewer improvements; and making necessary maintenance and safety repairs to City bridges. If approved by the voters, the City of Tacoma would levy an additional 2% earnings tax on natural gas, electrical energy, and telephone companies pursuant to RCW 35.21.870. The additional earnings tax on these utility companies will generate approximately $10 to $11 million annually. If passed on the ratepayers, this would result in less than $5 in additional cost per month to the average Tacoma household."

    How is the $5 per month estimate calculated?

    The estimated potential impact of less than $5 per month is based on average costs available on the websites for Tacoma Public Utilities electricity, Puget Sound Energy natural gas, Comcast and Century Link basic home phone service, and on the average U.S cell phone bill as reported by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, an international association representing the wireless communications industry. For example:

    • The average Tacoma household without natural gas spends $122/per month on electricity, $37.50 for basic home phone, and $47.16 for wireless service - for a total of approximately $207 per month. If the full cost of the additional two percent tax is passed along, this would total about $4.14 more each month; or,
    • The average Tacoma household with natural gas spends $71/per month on electricity, $79.56 on natural gas,$37.50 for basic home phone, and $47.16 for wireless service - for a total of approximately $236 per month. If the full cost of the additional two percent tax is passed along, this would total about $4.72 more each month.

    How would this rate compare to others?

    Washington state law restricts the utility earnings tax on natural gas, electricity and telephone utilities to 6 percent without voter approval. Therefore, six percent seems to be the average. Yet, some municipalities have rates as low as two or three percent and others as high as 14.75 percent.

    Comparable Municipal Utility Tax Rates
    (Association of Washington Cities Tax & User Fee Survey)

    City

    Natural Gas

    Power

    Phone

    Cable TV

    Garbage

    Water

    Sewer

    Storm

    Water

    Tacoma

    6%

    6%

    6%

    8%

    8%

    8%

    8%

    8%

    Bellingham

    6%

    6%

    6%

    6%

    6%

    11.5%

    11.5%

    11.5%

    Federal Way

    7.75%

    7.75%

    7.75%

    7.75%

    7.75%

    N/A

    N/A

    7.75%

    Kennewick

    8.5%

    8.5%

    8.5%

    7%

    7%

    13.5%

    7%

    1%

    Olympia

    9%

    9%

    9%

    No

    10%

    12%

    7%

    10%

    Seattle

    6%

    6%

    6%

    10%

    11.5%

    15.54%

    12%

    11.5%

    Spokane

    6%

    6%

    6%

    6%

    20%

    20%

    20%

    20%

    Vancouver

    6%

    6%

    6%

    No

    20%

    20%

    20%

    20%

    Yakima

    6%

    6%

    6%

    6%

    9%

    14%

    14%

    No

    How can residents learn more?

    Plan to attend one of the ten city-wide facts and information sessions that the City will be holding at various locations across the community beginning at 6 p.m. on a selection of Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings between August 26 and October 30. Organizations may also request a Proposition 1 Facts and Information presentation by contacting the City Manager’s Office at (253) 591-5100 or sending an email to Prop1Facts@CityofTacoma.org.

    Proposition 1 Facts and Information Sessions (PDF)

    What Proposition 1 materials does the City have available?

    Use these links to accesss the Facts and Information Sessions PowerPoint presentation, one-page handout and proposed project list. Use these links to access the video in English, Korean, CambodianRussian and Vietnamese.

    What is the impact of this tax on Pierce County (Lakewood, University Place and other jurisdictions)?

    The City’s current utility company earnings tax revenues, as well as any voter approved increase, come from customers located both inside and outside of the city for City-owned utilities. Privately owned utilities are taxed only on the earnings derived from customers within the City of Tacoma. Privately owned utility companies may already be paying utility company earnings taxes to the other cities where their customers live, so this would not be affected by a change in Tacoma.

    If the entire two percent increase on Tacoma Power is passed on to their customers in the form of a rate increase, the estimated impact to the average residential customer located outside Tacoma is less than $2.50 per month.

    Will Tacoma’s Proposition 1 effect phone service by internet providers?   

    Yes, phone service over the internet (commonly called VOIP or voice over internet protocol) is taxable as a telecommunications service and subject to the utility company earnings tax on telephone companies which is currently six percent. This would be increased to eight percent if voters approve Proposition 1.

    How can citizens be sure that funds will be used for street maintenance? 

    Transparency and financial accountability are critical elements of the City’s proposal. The ballot language in Proposition 1 legally restricts the new funds for the sole purpose of funding basic street maintenance and safety upgrades. This additional two percent utility company earnings tax will be deposited into a fund which restricts this money to only being spent for basic street maintenance and safety upgrades. The City will publicly present a six-year Infrastructure Management Plan (IMP) showing where the money will be spent, as well as public updates on project progress each quarter.

    Will Puget Sound Energy Rates go up as a result of Prop 1 passing? 

    If Proposition 1 is approved by voters, the additional expense to the utility, as with all utility expenses, will be considered in developing future utility rates. Puget Sound Energy currently pays six percent gross earnings tax for all natural gas revenue generated in the City of Tacoma, and Proposition 1 would increase that to eight percent. They may choose to request a rate increase on their Tacoma natural gas customers. Any request for adjustment must be submitted to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission for review and approval. 

    Why isn't street maintenance already being well taken care of?

    Residents have told us that public safety, which encompasses the majority of the City’s budget, is generally a top resident priority. This means other services suffer when revenues go down. Yet, adequate and dedicated funding to preserve and maintain city streets is important and continues to be a significant challenge for the City of Tacoma. Currently, the main sources of funding for street maintenance are the Motor Vehicle Fuel tax and Transportation Benefit District Vehicle fees, which are both dedicated for this purpose and combined with discretionary allocations from the City’s General Fund and Real Estate Excise Tax, which fluctuate and are also needed to support other core City services such as public safety. Like many Tacoma residents, the City’s elected officials and City staff understands that an adequate sustainable funding source should be identified and dedicated to specifically address the growing backlog of required street maintenance, improvements and safety upgrades. Since 2011, City Council and staff have worked with the community, businesses and agency partners to consider several permanent funding options to address street maintenance issues. Proposition 1 is one proposal that could potentially address these needs.

    Will revenues be enough to address the street maintenance needs?

    It won’t fix everything, but if Proposition 1 is passed by voters, the $10-11 million in new revenue would be combined with current funding to provide more than $26 million each year for neighborhood street maintenance and safety improvements. This level of funding will make significant progress towards completing many of the City’s backlogs of safety needs such as school zone safety improvements, while significantly enhancing the overall condition of Tacoma streets each year. A portion of these funds will also be used to secure State and Federal grants greatly increasing the actual amount of money being invested in maintaining Tacoma’s transportation infrastructure. 

    Why did I receive a Proposition 1 direct mail piece if I live outside of City limits and can't vote on this issue?

    Public Disclosure Commission allows and encourages municipalities to educate its citizens on election ballot measures. Specifically allowed is a direct mail piece, which should be distributed City-wide. The most cost-effective delivery method is by post office mail carrier route (bulk mail), where the mail delivery person dispenses one per every mailboxes along their route. If you received the City of Tacoma mailing, it’s because you live on a mail delivery route that contains addresses within Tacoma’s municipal boundary.
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