Tri-Cities BFT Board to Discuss Possible Sales Tax Cuts
TRI-CITIES, Washington – Members of the Ben Franklin Transit (BFT) are studying the possibility of reducing the collection of sales tax, citing the lack of passengers on the buses.
BFT currently receives a sales and use tax of six tenths (6/10ths) of one percent (1%). Under two potential options, this would be reduced by one tenth (1/10th) one percent (1%) to five tenths (5/10ths) of one percent (1%) in portions of Benton and Franklin counties.
The first option is a temporary reduction which “simply requires a majority vote BFTit’s board of directors”, a Press release noted.
However, the second option would be a permanent reduction that would require Benton and Franklin County Auditors for place the proposal on the ballot for the next general election.
“The average taxpayer pays about ten dollars a month in sales tax. If you want to reduce that by 1/10th of 1%, they would effectively receive a savings of around $1.66 per month,” said Marie Cummins, BFT’s acting director of marketing and communications.
However, if the board decides to go ahead with either option, BFT stands to lose $75 million in grant funds from Move Ahead Washington, a “16-year funding program to support and develop the state’s transport sector.
To benefit from the program, BFT must keep sales tax at the rate in effect on January 1, 2022.
“That obviously means no reduction in local sales tax,” Cummins said. “We also need to adopt a new policy allowing all riders under the age of 18 to ride for free.”
If BFT becomes ineligible for grant funds, Cummins said “it would likely result in the loss of any service reductions, any reductions in transit staff, and/or reductions in transit projects,” including three centers public transportation planned in Tri-Cities. .
A reduction in service would affect people like Pasco resident Jaime Torres, who suffered a brain hemorrhage in 2015 that left him disabled.
“Part of my disability is that I don’t drive. I therefore depend on DIAL-A-RIDE“, said Torres. “It’s something that is vital for our community.
Torres, who is also the founder of the Tri-Cities Justice Alliancesaid it was important to stand up for those who don’t want to talk because cut funding would affect those who rely on public transport.
“It’s an attack on the poor. It’s an attack on minorities. It’s an attack on people who can’t drive if they can’t afford it or if they don’t have a license,” Torres said “A lot of people are refugees. You have migrants who depend on the public transport system because they are learning to get around in this area.”
Torres added that Tri-Cities “is built for people with cars.”
“It feels like disabled people and pedestrians are an afterthought, unfortunately,” Torres said. “It’s completely unfair and I feel like [the board] is disconnected. Not everyone has a Monday to Friday job and doesn’t have weekends.
Adam Whittier, another Tri-Cities resident and cartoonist for tumbleweirdagreed, adding that he thinks “[the board] has this idea of being fiscally responsible.
“I think they’re going to do something very irresponsible for the people they serve,” Whittier said.
With the current rise in gasoline and fuel prices, Whittier said more and more people are deciding to take the bus to work.
“If the funding is cut and your route is cut and you need that route to get to work, how does that help the constituency?” said Whittier.
Cummins noted that BFT needs to grow at the same pace as Tri-Cities.
“We need to grow with it to provide quality public transit at an affordable price so that capitalizing on these grants is essential for us to achieve our mission,” Cummins said.
The BFT board meeting will begin at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 14.
Board meeting information:
Phone: 253-215-8782 / Toll Free: 877-853-5247
Meeting ID: 989 6217 8731 / Password: 833979
To register to speak in the public comment portion of this meeting, click here. Please note that public comments are limited to three (3) minutes.
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