Pierce Transit seeking tax hike; could help keep area's bus routes moving

Will voters approve a slight increase in the sales tax to keep some of the bus routes moving through Pierce County?

The Pierce Transit board of commissioners hopes so, agreeing July 12 to send to the voters a 0.3 percent sales tax increase as part of an attempt to keep bus routes as near to their current levels of service as possible. The vote will come in February.

The increase would amount to an extra 3 cents on every $10 purchase and would take the transit authority to its maximum taxing capacity.

Presently, Pierce Transit has a taxing authority of 0.6 percent.

Pierce Transit is trying to deal with a gap between revenue and expenditures that is expected to reach $68 million by 2012. Officials have said the transit authority, which receives approximately 70 percent of its funding through sales tax revenues, is experiencing the same issues as many of the municipalities it serves: declining revenues.

Because of that, the organization has said it must cut back on the service and routes it provides.

In the original plans presented to the public in April, the reductions included the elimination of all routes in east Pierce County with the exception of the 496 between the Bonney Lake Park N Ride and the Sumner Sounder station.

But an outcry from the small cities – which included a threat to de-annex from the transit authority because they would be paying taxes while no longer receiving services – prompted a re-drawing of the plans. That means east Pierce County, while losing some routes and runs, may still receive service.

Officials in Bonney Lake estimate riders in the city pay approximately $2 million to Pierce Transit every year.

Now called the "preservation plan," the option formerly known as the "growth plan" was developed in June in response to the concerns raised by the small cities.

For example, under the current plan, Bonney Lake would still lose routes 406 and 407, with service to Buckley and Prairie Ridge, respectively, every two hours, but the 450 would connect Bonney Lake and Buckley with service mid-day every two hours. Route 496, which connects the Park N Ride to the Sounder Station, would include two trips to Buckley each morning and evening, timed with the trains.

In addition, "BusPLUS" service, which follows a fixed route, but also deviates to other stops like the shuttle service, would be extended to Buckley.

According to Pierce Transit Public Relations Officer Lars Erickson, if voters do not approve the tax increase, the board of commissioners would have to find new ways of addressing the budget shortfall.

"We would have to find a new source of revenue or make reductions," he said.

In the meantime, Erickson said the board has instructed Pierce Transit to continue looking for ways to make budget cuts without cutting services until voters have their say.

To date, Pierce Transit has reduced its workforce by 5 percent, delayed or eliminated capital projects, reduced service by nearly 6 percent and increased regular adult fares by 25 cents.

According to Erickson, those actions, combined with employee identified operational efficiencies, have saved Pierce Transit more than $72 million.

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