Bremerton Car Tabs and a Possible Increase

Clearly this would be an issue that would interest folks in all jurisdictions, so I’ll place the conversation here.

As you may have read in the story Thursday, Bremerton is considering an increase to car tabs within the city. The council could approve up to $20 more on your tabs (The basic rate is $33.75) to improve the roads and sidewalks in town.

Phil Williams, the city’s public works director, estimates the city will spend $175,000 on road preservation in 2009. The car tabs would add about $600,000, but might not all go to preservation. City Councilman Nick Wofford, the man behind the proposal, has suggested 75 percent go to preservation and the rest to sidewalks and other non-motorized transportation uses.

The Legislature gave counties and cities the ability to do this in the 2007 session. Counties and cities can add $20 a year without a vote and up to $100 with one.

To date, no one is charging the extra fee, but Des Moines, Lake Forest Park and Edmonds will soon. Olympia, Burien and Prosser have joined Bremerton in considering it.

For more history on car tabs, particularly in Bremerton, you can go to the following links:

More of Steven Gardner’s Links

26 thoughts on “Bremerton Car Tabs and a Possible Increase

  1. Jake, It is my understanding that it is not Where you pay but Where you live. One of the bones of contention is that the $20 would not really be $20 because of money that would required to be paid to DOL to manage the collection and processing of the Bremerton fee at the time of renewal. Whether or not a person gets charged would be based on their residence of record not the location of where they pay the fee.

    Someone let me know if I am wrong.

  2. I would gladly pay 20 bucks more a year just to watch Tim Eyman dress is more stupid outfits when visiting the Legislature.

  3. Bremerton officials seem to be treating this new fee that would be imposed within the “transportation benefit district” as simply more revenue to be spent in some way for streets and sidewalks.

    How would that fit within the law? Here is the section that describes the notice and ordinance establishing the TBD:

    The notice is supposed to describe what would be done with the money, and the purpose is to fund “improvements” to certain transportation facilities. Click the link within that section to read RCW 36.73.015, where the definition of “improvement” is given:
    “(3) “Transportation improvement” means a project contained in the transportation plan of the state or a regional transportation planning organization. A project may include investment in new or existing highways of statewide significance, principal arterials of regional significance, high capacity transportation, public transportation, and other transportation projects and programs of regional or statewide significance including transportation demand management. Projects may also include the operation, preservation, and maintenance of these facilities or programs.”

    It seems like a stretch to talk about sidewalks in the context of this type of “improvement.”

    In whose state or regional plan can Bremerton find repaving city streets or fixing potholes?

    Assuming there is a regional plan that covers “principal arterials of regional significance” that are within Bremerton, what is the project that Bremerton intends to fund?

    The authority to impose this $20 fee is apparently not an unlimited authority that would enable the city to spend the money on city streets that aren’t “principal arterials of regional significance.”

    So, what exactly do the Bremerton officials think they are authorized to do–and why do they think so?

  4. The intent of RCW 36.73.010 is to foster cooperation between government and private sector towards transportation improvements which are necessitated by economic development and to improve the performance of the transportation system. That includes state highways, county roads, and city streets. The statue “shall be liberally construed to permit the accomplishment of its purposes.” The statutory definition of a “transportation improvement” is quite broad.” is for Sequim, which has a TBD with an eligible project range to include new road and sidewalk construction, and rehabilitation of existing facilities. (Page 2) is Burien and is Lynwood. Both have sidewalk construction and repairs in their TBD’s list of potential projects.
    is information from Association of Washington Cities which describes TBDs.

    Note the following question and answer:

    If the TBD transportation improvements must be in a state or regional plan, does that mean only state and regional roads such as arterials, can be funded?
    No. The TBD statute originally limited the use of funds for city streets and county roads to 40% of funds generated. That limitation was removed to make TBD an option for purely locally determined activities. For example, both the Washington State Transportation Plan, 2007-2026 State transportation plan ( and the Puget Sound Regional Council’s Destination 2030 Update at page 62 ( note that adequate maintenance, preservation, and expansion of local roads are an important element of the “system” and that new local options should be put to this purpose.

    The first PDF mentions sidewalks on page 7.
    The second PDF includes Kitsap.

  5. The draft ordinance in the Jan. 14 agenda packet doesn’t identify a “project,” yet the definition of a “transportation improvement” which may be funded with this new revenue is, as I noted above, stated in RCW 36.73.015(3). Its first sentence is: “‘Transportation improvement’ means a project contained in the transportation plan of the state or a regional transportation planning organization.”

    There appear to be two or three requirements in that definition which Bremerton isn’t meeting. First, describe a “project.” Second, take action to get that project “contained in” a state or regional plan. Third, the projects which “may” be funded must involve, e.g., “arterials of regional significance.” (Obviously, the AWC and “Registered Voter” would like to read that third requirement out of the definition. Perhaps the word “may” allows them to ignore it.)

    The fact that both the state and regional plans say preservation and maintenance are important doesn’t transform those objectives into “projects” that are contained in the plans. See the question in the AWC explanation that follows the one quoted by “Register Voter”: “What if the transportation improvements are not in an existing state or regional plan?” “We suggest you work with your Regional Transportation Planning Organization (RTPO) to incorporate your proposed improvements into the RTPO’s plan.” The AWC then says something that ought to gladden the hearts of those who seek diligently for a liberal construction of the law: “As noted above, most RTPO’s and the state plan have already identified a broad range of local transportation improvements as priorities.” But, a “priority” is not a “project.”

    No doubt the state and regional plans say a lot about the importance of maintenance, preservation, congestion relief, etc.; but those objectives are not “projects.” “Projects” are designed to achieve one or more of those objectives.

    Note also that the AWC recognizes in its answer to the question preceding the one cited by “Registered Voter” the significance of the words in this part of RCW 36.73.020(1): “…and necessitated by existing or reasonably foreseeable congestion levels.” The AWC says in part: “However, keep in mind that any transportation improvement also needs to be ‘necessitated by existing or reasonably foreseeable congestion levels.’ Consequently, not every street, road, transit program, etc., will qualify as a transportation improvement.”

    The new revenue is to be used for “transportation improvements” that “are consistent with” state, regional, or local plans, actually “contained in” the state or regional plans, “and necessitated by…congestion levels.”

    Bremerton apparently has no such project plan yet, so it isn’t contained in a state or regional plan; and nothing Bremerton has said in its ordinance indicates that the spending they have in mind would be on projects necessitated by congestion.

    They seem to be stretching the words of the law beyond the breaking point to try to use the new revenue source for whatever roadway and sidewalk maintenance and preservation work they later decide to do.

    With “Registered Voter” on the case, I don’t doubt that other ways of construing the wording of the law will be provided. 😉

  6. So Bob, are you saying that the TBD cannot be used for existing road improvements, but may be used for a new “project” like a POF between Bremerton and Seattle?

    -Carlos Jara-

  7. I believe there has to be a “project,” rather than a general statement of objectives such as the performance of routine and continuing repair and maintenance of existing sidewalks and streets. And, that project has to be aimed at relieving existing or foreseeable congestion. See the county’s Bethel Corridor Project as an example of an existing road for which an actual plan was developed, the plan is contained in the regional plan, and the intent is to relieve existing and foreseeable congestion related to development in the corridor.

    As for POF, the city council would have to do what I’m certain they are afraid to do — put the matter to a vote of the people. The auto fee cannot be used for POF without voter approval.

    RCW 36.73.065(4)(b):
    “(b) The vehicle fee authorized in (a) of this subsection may only be imposed for a passenger-only ferry transportation improvement if the vehicle fee is first approved by a majority of the voters within the jurisdiction of the district.”

  8. Bainbridge Island Councilperson Barry Peters stands ready to implement the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET) here on Bainbridge. Not sure why he hasn’t again openly pushed his pet project. The fact is COBI Council and Mayor are in extremis on matters financial and this is just chump change compared to the overall financial mess.

    What COBI did was X out all money for road repair in the current budget (they forgot a stitch in time saves nine) and instead gave money to the local arts commission and special treatment to a special-interest group at Pritchard Park. Then Peters turns around and say, my, oh my, we need to do the roads and implements the MVET. He takes it as a given that the taxpayers are stupid and he just may be correct.

  9. Under state law, Puget Sound Regional Council is the RTPO for the central Puget Sound Region. The Regional Transportation Improvement Program (TI P): is a 3-year, specific programme of regional transportation improvements for highways, transit and other modes. It consists of projects drawn from Destination 2030, as well as local plans and programmes. The current projects for Kitsap can be seen at

    There are also recommended transportation projects in the PSRC region with funding needs which rely on the federal economic recovery program to be enacted in early 2009. Those for Bremerton include Pacific Ave. Improvements, SR-303 Corridor: 11th Street at Warren Ave. (Current Contingency List Project), Two projects, 9.20 Lane miles, and some Kitsap Transit and Port of Bremerton projects.

    On the City of Olympia’s website is a document ( which indicates that if transportation improvements not currently in an existing state or regional plan, the entity forming the TBD should work with its Regional Transportation Planning Organization (RTPO) to incorporate proposed improvements into the plan. It also notes that most RTPO’s and the state plan have already identified a broad range of local transportation improvements as priorities, and that any transportation improvement also needs to be “necessitated by existing or reasonably foreseeable congestion levels”. It also states that not every street, road, transit program, etc. will qualify as a transportation improvement. Logical.

    The draft ordinance for the formation of the TBD is one thing, a finalised plan and projects, another. To include projects, a comprehensive review by Regional Council staff has to take place to ensure it meets certain requirements. For whatever reason, Bob Meadows has mistaken a discussion of the entire definition in RCW as an effort by others to ignore a portion thereof. Rather than indulge his unfounded suspicions, I instead refer you to where the definition of a transportation project is again introduced, and in more detail.

    The comment It seems like a stretch to talk about sidewalks in the context of this type of “improvement.” led to references of applicable statute, its definition, explanatory documents, and other TBD projects to indicate that talking about sidewalks is not necessarily a stretch.

    The question “So, what exactly do the Bremerton officials think they are authorized to do–and why do they think so?” led to the production of documents and statute which are likely to indicate what Bremerton officials think they are authorised to do, in addition to why they might think so.

    There will indeed be more than one way of construing the law. The goal is accuracy and improved understanding, not just mental masturbation. 😉

    RCW 36.73.065(4)(b) refers to the imposition of vehicle fees for a passenger-only ferry transportation improvement. Does Bremerton’s TBD plan to use some of the revenues for this purpose? The blog post by Steven Gardner didn’t mention this.

  10. “Registered Voter” cites an entirely different chapter of the Revised Code of Washington — RCW 36.120 — which pertains to an entirely different kind of transportation taxing district. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the definition would be different.

    Note that in that other kind of district, the taxes and fees require voter approval:

    If Bremerton chooses to designate one of its existing projects as the “transportation improvement” to be accomplished with a new Transportation Benefit District vehicle fee, that would apparently be authorized by the state law — if the project is designed to handle congestion and is contained in a regional plan.

    My belief is as stated above — routine maintenance and repair of sidewalks and roadways at places to be determined later that are not part of a “project” “contained in” a regional plan wouldn’t be an authorized use of the vehicle fee imposed by a Transportation Benefit District.

  11. “Registered Voter” cites an entirely different chapter of the Revised Code of Washington — RCW 36.120 — which pertains to an entirely different kind of transportation taxing district. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the definition would be different.

    I cite it because it’s listed as a relevant Note under RCW 36.73.020. The Findings under 2006 c 311 are also germane. It is not unusual to cross-reference other statutes, laws, cases, or definitions which can provide guidance. That the taxing district is a regional transportation investment district versus a transportation benefit district doesn’t change that the State has a definition for transportation projects, including portions of a city street. Though different chapters, both statutes are under Title 36, and unless the context require otherwise, definitions apply throughout.

    That approval may be required in has no bearing on this discussion.

    Without knowing the details regarding its project intentions, your assumption regarding the scope of work per the Bremerton TBD means little. You use the word ‘routine’, but the terms used by Bremerton were ‘road preservation’ and improvement. If proposed projects meet statutory requirements and are approved by the RTPO, Bremerton will join TBDs in Sequim, Lynwood, and Burien in the ability to conduct sidewalk construction and repairs, and the $20 vehicle fee can be used towards this purpose without requiring a vote.

  12. RV,

    I’m just now getting around to finding out about the foot ferry item. I don’t think Bremerton has any intention of using this fee for that. In fact, I thought I recalled that when the bill was passed in 2007 it specifically included language that would prohibit the tab being used for that purpose. I’ll have to look into that element further.

    Steven Gardner

  13. Steven, the question about using the fee for POF service came from Carlos Jara. See comment #8 above on Jan. 17 at 8:32am. I answered the question. “Registered Voter” then seems to have concluded that something’s amiss in our mentioning POF. The link to the RCW provision requiring voter approval to use the vehicle fee for POF is above in my answer to Jara — comment #9.

  14. Steven,

    Carlos Jara asked a question and “Bob Meadows” responded. However, it was the basis for Jara’s query which aroused my curiosity regarding whether or not a draft TBD – or any other document not posted here – indicated any plan to use some of the revenues for this purpose. I didn’t conclude anything was amiss as Bob incorrectly assumes (yet again). If you can confirm one way or another, that would be appreciated. Thanks.

  15. Thank you Registered Voter for clarifying.

    There is no mention in the city’s proposal of using the money toward passenger-only ferry service. The split proposed now is 75 percent streets, 25 percent sidewalks.

    Steven Gardner

  16. Just a few clarifications – or at least an interpetation of the way that things have been presented to me as a member of the City Council.
    I do stress that what I present to you in this blog is MY viewpoint, and not to be taken as the City Councils position.
    – The action Wed. evening did nothing but form a Transportation Benefit District.
    – Projects to be undertaken will be decided by the TBD board.
    – Yes, Bremerton does have a plan for street paving & sidewalk inprovements. For information on this plan, you can contact the Public Works and Utilities dept, of which Mr. Phil Williams is the director. Also Mr. Mike Mecham (City Engineer) or Mr. Larry Mattel (City Traffic Engineer) would be good sources of information.
    – Some may consider it a “stretch” of the law to implement the TBD in this fashion, however this matter has been examined rather well by not only the Public Works personnel, but City of Bremertons legal dept. prior to the current action. This has been under consideration for roughly a year. It has been presented to the Public Works and Utilities committee, where it was discussed thoroughly, prior to being presented to the Council as a whole.
    – Accountability and Transparency of the TBD activities are issues which are of a high priority to the TBD board. You have questions? Please, I invite your inquiries.

    Sadly, it has come to the point where there are little or no revenues to maintain our City streets. Likewise, there are multiple areas in the City that lack sidewalks – no funds for those either.
    For the past several years we who pay vehicle license fees have been enjoying some very nice, low fees. Yeah, they have kind of snuck up a bit here and there, but fees are still pretty darn low. Especially compared to what we were paying. Now, I don’t have an accurate tally of just how much I personally have saved over that period of time, but I certainly am greatful for those reduced fees! It has helped our family quite a bit. We have four drivers in our family and seven licensed vehicles (3 motorcycles). The last new vehicle we purchased was in 1995 – I paid nearly $500 a year to license that car! Remember those days???
    The problem is that since those revenues are no longer going to the State, they have cut back dramatically on what funding is passed on to the Cities. So, the Cities, or at least Bremerton, did their best to keep the paving program and overall street maintenance going. We have gotten fairly creative, finding efficiencies where we can and being very proactive in funding flow aquisition. However, costs have escalated dramatically in the past years. Asphalt has tripled. Concrete and steel likewise. We all saw what happened with fuel costs last year, although we are enjoying a breather from that(Asphalt has not come down tho!) Personnel costs keep going up due to things like increased health care cost, insurance, etc. To top it all off, the economy has been, shall we say, less than stellar. Sales tax, Real estate excise tax and even gas tax have all decreased tremendously.
    Bottom line – we do not have enough money to keep a comprehensive paving program going. We have “robbed Peter to pay Paul” – but Peter now has nothing left!
    We are now faced with a dilemma. We have a VERY large investment in our streets – if we do not maintain them, it will cost EVEN MORE to bring them back up to standard. It’s kinda like fixing the roof on your house – if it leaks and you don’t fix it, it’s gonna get real expensive! Yeah, it takes an investment to repair it, but not as much as completely replacing it.
    My feelings – no, I don’t want to have to pay more to operate my vehicle. Having to do so just plain sux. But we are probably gonna have to do it, just like repairing the roof.

    At this point, the question before the council will be do we do this councilmanic increase? How do we do this,and just how much if we do? What vehicles will it apply to? Do we take it to the people for a vote – and risk not being able to do it at all if it is turned down? There are still a lot of issues to be considered.

    If you have any other ideas on how we can fund our streets -let me know! Please! I would really like to have another solution. You can send comments to the City Council office, attn Brad Gehring, if you would like.(address is on the web site)

    Thanks for taking time to read my ramblings!

    Brad Gehring

  17. Brad Gehring wrote: “Sadly, it has come to the point where there are little or no revenues to maintain our City streets.”

    So, why have you been trying to annex more area?

  18. Mr. Gehring, granting that your legal counsel has provided advice on the law’s requirements, could you elaborate on it by explaining how your TBD would use the vehicle fee revenue on a “project contained in” a regional plan and “necessitated by existing or reasonably foreseeable congestion levels”?

    While there are several statements about priorities in the resolution that are apparently intended to show that the city’s use of the vehicle fee revenue would be “consistent with” a regional plan as required by RCW 36.73.020, where is any statement indicating recognition that the “transportation improvement” must be “a project contained in the transportation plan of the state or a regional transportation planning organization” as required by RCW 36.73.015?

    This may not be the entire regional plan which could contain a Bremerton project, but it does contain three Bremerton projects:

    Is there some other part of the regional transportation planning organization’s plan that contains some other Bremerton project for which you hope to use the vehicle fee revenue?

    The resolution establishing the TBD notes in the “Whereas” paragraph at the top of the second page and in section 11.25.040 of the ordinance the requirement that the projects be “necessitated by existing or reasonably foreseeable congestion levels” – a requirement stated in RCW 36.73.020 alongside the “consistent with” language.

    Where is there any indication that the vehicle fee revenue would be used on a project that is “necessitated by…congestion levels”? So far, it appears that the council intends to use the revenue for roadway and sidewalk repairs and maintenance, not for a project necessitated by congestion levels.

    Do you and your legal counsel deny that the use of the vehicle fee revenue allowed by state law is limited to “a project contained in” the state or regional plan and “necessitated by…congestion levels”?

  19. Thanks for your post, Brad. Given that RCW 36.73.010 is to be liberally construed, and existing TBDs in Sequim, Burien and Lynwood are precedents indicating the allowance of sidewalk construction and repairs, the better question would be whether or not the City of Bremerton and/or its legal counsel have made contact with its RTPO to incorporate proposed improvements into the existing regional plan?

    Also, thank you Steven.

  20. Reply to Blue Light;

    The annexation of the SKIA area will give Bremerton an area for economic development that is currently lacking. From economic development comes jobs, with jobs come prosperity, with prosperity comes the resources to run and maintain a city, providing required services to the populace.
    Or we could just wait with our hand out for government money.
    ( Oh yeah – governments don’t have money of their own, do they??)
    Not to be sarcastic or disrespectful – this is a very simplistic response to your question, but I feel it gets to the core fairly well.

    Response to Bob M.;

    Once again, I refer you to the Public Works dept. They have more consice information than I can give you off the cuff.

    Brad G.

    Brad G.

  21. It’s interesting that the main concern of the council seems to be justifying the collection of money. There is no mention as to where the streets and sidewalks are that will be “improved”, just as there was never a plan made public the last time a $40 fee was floated. As I recall, a motion to keep the public informed as to progress was nixed. I would like to see a plan for the use of all the money to be gathered, and how many more “managers and staff” would be hired to manage this plan. At the begining of this, it says “in town.” Does that mean only in the downtown area, as has been the focus the past two mayoral terms? Why is the City loathe to inform the populace? I hope people keep all this in mind come the next election.

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