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Voters Support Fireworks Bans, Transportation Taxes, but Parks and Police Struggle


November 10, 2015 by Steve Hawley
Category: Elections

Voters Support Fireworks Bans, Transportation Taxes, but Parks and Police Struggle

Whew! It was a busy election for local ballot measures, with 148 issues decided across Washington State (not counting school districts). There are more interesting issues than space to write about them, so I’ll break the election down into two posts. This one deals with funding measures and bans on fireworks, marijuana, and alcohol. Read part two, on citizen initiatives and changes to governance structures, here.

For the full results, take a look at our handy Local Ballot Measure Database. (I’ll update the percentages once the counties certify the results.)

Voters Approve Transportation Taxes

Transportation benefit districts (TBDs) are on a roll, with five jurisdictions – Centralia, Clarkston, Enumclaw, Shelton, and Tacoma – approving new TBD sales taxes by a substantial margin. Both Enumclaw and Tacoma approved a 0.1% sales tax on top of an existing $20 vehicle license fee, making them the first TBDs outside Seattle to use both a license fee and a sales tax. Centralia, meanwhile, rescinded its $20 license fee in favor of a 0.2% sales tax. Over the past four years, 25 TBDs have proposed sales taxes, and all but four have passed.

Seattle voters approved the nine-year, $930 million “Move Seattle” package, a levy lid lift to fund a wide variety of street, transit, and other transportation improvements. Community Transit in Snohomish County approved a 0.3% sales tax for expanded bus service, which will generate about $25 million per year.

In Tacoma, a combined levy lid lift and 1.5% private utility tax to fund pedestrian and street improvements is trailing by the narrowest of margins, with some ballots still trickling in. (Update: This measure has since passed by just 22 votes.)

Fire Bonds Pass, Others Fall Short

Out of 12 bond measures statewide, eight are expected to pass based on the current results. Most of the successful measures were fire-related, while the few non-fire bonds struggled to reach the required 60% threshold.

The successful bond measures included:

Below are the failed measures, along with their current approval percentages:

Police Funding Rejected

Four of the five police-related funding measures failed. In addition to the proposed bond in Bainbridge Island discussed above, voters also rejected a 6% utility tax increase in Orting to pay for police services, a 0.2% public safety tax in Whatcom County, and an excess levy in McCleary (following two other failed police measures last year).

The only police funding measure to pass was a 0.3% public safety sales tax in Yakima County. In King County, voters approved a proposal granting more authority to a civilian law enforcement oversight office.

Update: A couple of you have also pointed out that a levy lid lift in Normandy Park to maintain general government services failed, which is expected to cause the elimination of several positions, including 25% of the police force.

Park Districts Struggle (Again)

Voters approved two new park and recreation districts in Tonasket (for parks and a swimming pool) and Kettle Falls (for a pool, which passed by two votes). Each new district also voted on a supporting property tax levy, which is narrowly passing in Tonasket and falling short of the required 60% in Kettle Falls.

Metropolitan park districts (MPDs), which can levy taxes without a separate vote, haven’t fared well lately. Ferndale and Kirkland rejected proposed MPDs in this election, joining a growing list of failed attempts in recent years that includes Sequim, Skamania County, Bonney Lake, and Vancouver. Voters in Olympia, however, did approve an MPD, joining Seattle as the only cities to pass this funding mechanism since 2011.

Puget Sound Voters Support Fireworks Bans

With this year’s fierce drought and fire season, plus a bleak outlook for the coming winter, fireworks regulation is a hot topic. Four cities in King and Snohomish counties – Brier, Kent, Maple Valley, and Marysville – asked citizens for their input on advisory measures to ban the sale and discharge of consumer fireworks. All four supported the bans by a significant margin.

In recent years, voters have also supported fireworks restrictions in Clark County and Olympia. Under current state law, local fireworks regulations that are more restrictive than state law may not take effect until at least one year after adoption.

Marijuana Debate Continues, Alcohol Prohibition Ends

In an advisory vote, over 60% of voters in Federal Way opposed allowing marijuana-related businesses within city limits, despite their support for I-502 three years ago. This is the first time a city has asked voters to weigh in on whether or not to allow marijuana uses. Federal Way currently has a moratorium on these businesses that expires in May.

Washington’s last alcohol ban is ending, as three-quarters of voters in Fircrest approved the sale of liquor for on-premises consumption. The last time city residents voted on the issue was 1975, when they upheld the Prohibition-era law. But that doesn’t mean local residents went completely thirsty – the Tacoma suburb annexed areas with alcohol-serving businesses in the 1990s and grandfathered them in. (State legislation passed earlier this year ensured that these businesses would be protected even if the ban was upheld.)

Did anything else grab your attention? Leave a comment below or contact me directly at shawley@mrsc.org.


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Steve Hawley

Steve joined MRSC in July 2014 and is responsible for writing, editing, and conducting research for many of MRSC’s website resources, with a particular focus on local government finance, budgeting, ballot measures, and procurement. He has a broad communications and public policy background with over a decade of local government and nonprofit experience.

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