Millions of dollars for local street preservation projects will soon become unavailable to the city of Enumclaw.
Well, soon for the city, at least — according to city Public Works Director Jeff Lincoln, the shift could likely happen in 2022, or possibly even 2023. But that doesn’t mean the city council is sleeping at the wheel, he continued, and it’s possible local residents could see a sales tax increase proposed on a future ballot.
Here’s the gist of the situation.
The city of Enumclaw has many sources of revenue to maintain its streets, Lincoln said — there’s the state Department of Transportation, the Puget Sound Regional Council, federal grants, and the local Transportation Benefit District.
“But the most consistent and reliable source of funds that we’ve had has been from the Transportation Improvement Board,” Lincoln added.
The state Transportation Improvement Board, or TIB, was formed more than three decades ago to help cities with various transportation projects by collecting a portion of the state-wide gas tax and redistributing it.
For example, Enumclaw received roughly $6 million in total TIB grants since 1994 — roughly 75 percent of the total $8.1 million the city has spent on those grant-funded projects, said Ashley Probart, director of the TIB.
However, the program that has been providing Enumclaw with the vast majority of those funds, known as the Arterial Preservation Program, doesn’t financially support cities that have a total valuation of more than $2 billion.
“When we go over $2 billion, we’ll no longer eligible for that pie,” Lincoln said. “We then become eligible for other Transportation Improvement Board programs, but they are far more competitive.”
For example, in 2019, the APP had $7.5 million to dole out to various cities around the state; 35 cities applied, and about half received a grant. Other cities that can apply for APP money include Black Diamond, Pacific, and Buckley.
After graduating out of the APP, the program left for Enumclaw to get grant money from is the Urban Arterial Program.
In 2019, the Urban Arterial Program was funded with nearly $69 million. However, more than 76 cities like Seattle, Bellevue, and Maple Valley applied for that pot of money, and only 31 were selected (40 percent).
“We’re moving from a small pond to a bigger pond, with a lot of bigger fish,” Lincoln said.
They say you have to spend money to make money — in this case, as Enumclaw grows, the city may have to spend more money out of its general fund on street projects in order to remain competitive for TIB grants.
For example, before projects are even considered by the TIB, cities have to pony up matching funds based on their total valuation. Under the APP, Enumclaw has to contribute 15 percent of a project’s total cost; under the Urban Arterial Program, however, Enumclaw’s matching fund percentage increases to 20 percent once the city hits $2.5 billion in assessed value, Probart said.
After matching funds are secured, projects are then scored on various criteria, including whether the project will improve safety, maximize commercial development potential, correct physical or structural deficiencies, increase to traffic capacity, and more. The higher a project scores on these criteria, the more likely a project is to be funded.
However, the TIB also highly values projects where a city has already spent some money on planning or obtaining permits. Additionally, projects where the city contributes more than the matching fund minimum are more likely to be considered.
“This… does not dictate TIB funding be directed towards shovel-ready projects, but projects that are closer to construction may compete better,” TIB criteria rating guideline documents read.
All together, said Lincoln, this means that for Enumclaw to stay competitive in the TIB, more money may have to be spent from the general fund for streets — which takes away funds for other departments, like police and parks.
In order to relieve some of the pressure that will be applied to Enumclaw’s general fund in the next few years, the city council could look at asking voters to increase the local sales tax by 0.01 percent. Doing so, Lincoln said, would help cover the average annual grant amount the city receives from the TIB.
However, as the council currently stands, city leaders “[don’t] want to take any action that going to disadvantage the business community,” especially after the pandemic, Lincoln said. “So our council will struggle with referring a 0.01 percent increase to the voters. But I know that they’re also concerned that we don’t let our roads get back to what they were after the last big hit that we had in 2008/2009, when the economy contracted and money got really scarce.”
The Courier-Herald asked the Enumclaw City Council for their thoughts on potentially raising the local sales tax to support street programs in the future, but did not receive any response by print deadline.