- Why is the Kirkland City Council considering a $20 car tab fee?
The City of Kirkland would use the $1.34 million in annual revenue generated by the car tab fee to plan, design and construct the 45 highest priority projects identified in the Safer Routes to School and 2022 Active Transportation plans.
- How much will these priority projects cost?
Nearly $26 million in 2022 dollars. However, the City of Kirkland can use existing funding to pay for nearly $6 million of that. A $20 car tab fee would enable the City of Kirkland to borrow the remaining $20 million for these projects through a general obligation bond. (To understand how general obligation bonds work, see questions 13, 14 and 15).
- Why is the City Council considering a car tab fee to pay for these priorities from the Safer Routes to School and Active Transportation plans?
Urgency and need. Kirkland’s community members have asked City leaders in a variety of forums to improve conditions for walking, bicycling and riding transit—especially around schools. With current funding, however, paying for the plans’ 45 highest priority projects would take 20 to 30 years. With revenue from a car tab-backed general obligation bond, the City of Kirkland could pay for those 45 improvements within six years.
- How much revenue could a $20 car tab fee generate for Kirkland transportation projects?
Approximately $1.34 million each year, according to the Washington State Department of Revenue. Technically, the revenue derives from the general obligation bond. The $20 car tab fee provides a revenue stream for the City of Kirkland to pay back the debt necessary to fund the projects.
- Can the City of Kirkland complete those projects without the car tab fee?
Yes. With existing revenues and staff, however, completing the plans’ 40 highest priority projects would take at least 20 years and as long 30 years. The car tab fee will enable the City of Kirkland to complete these projects within six years.
How does my neighborhood benefit?
- What are the highest priority projects?
Sidewalks, crosswalks and bicycle lanes. The City of Kirkland will dedicate 64 percent of the money to sidewalks in each of the City’s 13 neighborhoods. Another 19 percent will be invested in crosswalk improvements, such as rapid flashing beacons. Bicycle improvements will receive 14 percent of the revenue and maintenance for sidewalks, curb ramps and median islands will benefit from three percent of the revenue.
- Are the projects prioritized by improving safety and fulfilling urgent gaps?
Yes, they are distributed according to need. While each neighborhood has at least one priority project, some neighborhoods, such as Finn Hill, Kingsgate and Juanita have more gaps in their networks of walking, bicycling and transit-riding infrastructure. The projects prioritized in the Safer Routes to School and Active Transportation plans would fill the most urgent of these gaps.
- How did these projects make the list?
It was a group effort. As directed by the Kirkland City Council in 2019, City of Kirkland staff collaborated with the Kirkland community at schools, neighborhood meetings, neighborhood parties, farmers’ markets, on the internet and in city hall to identify the locations of the community’s greatest facility-gaps for sidewalks, bicycle lanes and transit-stop improvements. Kirkland’s transportation and capital project staff, then, ranked these gaps by asking: What investments would provide the greatest benefit to the most amount of people for the longest period of time? More specifically, though, City staff prioritized candidate projects based on crash history and indicators of crash risk, such as the speeds and volumes of automotive travel on adjacent streets; as well as the number of lanes on adjacent streets.
Why is the Council funding infrastructure for walking, bicycling and riding transit by fees on driving?
Travelers in all modes will benefit from these improvements. When more people choose to ride bicycles, walk or take transit, fewer people drive. This improves traffic flow for those who do have to drive and reduces wear and tear on streets. Providing community members with more transportation choices--driving, walking, bicycling, taking transit--is how Kirkland's leaders plan to keep everybody moving in a city that will continue to accumulate more homes, more people and more automobiles on its streets. Sidewalks, crosswalks and bicycle lanes reduce crashes between automobiles, pedestrians and cyclists, which benefits both drivers and non-drivers.
- Why doesn’t the City of Kirkland just reprioritize the capital improvement program’s priorities to fund the Safer Routes to School and 2022 Active Transportation projects sooner?
Some of that money is already funding other essential improvements, such as Kirkland's annual street paving program and neighborhood traffic control. The rest of it is dedicated to projects the City has been planning to complete for years and sometimes decades. The City Council approved these projects in Kirkland’s six-year capital improvement program and re-affirmed them in bi-annual budget adjustment. Those projects include parks, water, sewer, stormwater and transportation projects. The capital improvement program is already funding their pre-planning, design and construction processes.
- Can the City of Kirkland use money from the American Rescue Plan Act to fund transportation priorities identified in the Safer Routes to School and Active Transportation plans?
No. The City of Kirkland is already leveraging nearly all of its funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to invest in more than 40 other initiatives and projects, with a focus on rent relief and housing stability. The City doesn’t have enough left over to cover the costs of Safer Routes to School projects.
Why isn't the City using revenue from the School Zone Safety Camera Program to fund these improvements?
The City is using revenue from the School Zone Safety Camera Program to fund sidewalk construction and other pedestrian improvements. Along with paying for the costs of operating the camera equipment and the enforcement action that follows, safety camera funds are used for projects that directly benefit pedestrian safety and the Safe Routes to School program. For 2023 and 2024, approximately $750,000 from the Safety Camera Program is allocated to these types of projects. This represents the lion’s share of current funding. In addition to these funds, the City will continue to pursue outside grants that have historically accounted for 20- to 30 percent of the funding used on these types of projects. The Transportation Benefit District taxes would supplement these funds.
- Can the City Council issue a general obligation bond instead of increasing car tab fees?
Yes. To issue a general obligation bond, the City would have to demonstrate its ability to pay back the debt in one of three ways: 1.) It would have to identify an existing, but untapped revenue source; 2.) create a new revenue source, such as car tabs; or 3.) free up an existing revenue source by defunding the service or project that relies on that existing revenue source. There are no existing but untapped revenue sources. And existing general fund revenues are allocated to critical services such as police, fire, parks and streets. The Council would have to cut some of these services to pay debt service on a bond.
- What is a general obligation bond?
A general obligation bond is a defined amount of money that a local or state government borrows from investors, such as 401k investors, and institutions, such as Charles Schwab. The guarantee to pay back that money with interest is called a bond. Since bonds are comparatively safe investments, the interest rates investors can expect from their returns is usually minimal. To keep interest rates low, the government that is issuing the general obligation bonds must demonstrate a defined revenue source that can pay back its debt—by creating a new revenue source, identifying an existing, but untapped revenue source or by freeing up an existing revenue source.
- What is a Transportation Benefit District?
A transportation benefit district is an independent taxing district that can leverage sales taxes or vehicle license fees to generate revenue to fund specific transportation projects. The authority to form transportation benefit districts derives from Washington state law (Chapter 36.73 RCW and RCW 35.21.225).
Are there other revenue options authorized by the transportation benefit district?
Yes. With its taxing authority, the City of Kirkland can establish several revenue sources other than a vehicle license fee by voter approval, including a sales and use tax, excess property tax and commercial impact fees. Transportation business districts’ most common revenue source are council-approved vehicle license fees, which is what the Kirkland City Council is considering. The city council can increase a vehicle license fee by $50 over the course of four years. With voter approval, transportation benefit districts can increase a vehicle license fee by up to $100 per vehicle at any time and/or implement a sales tax for transportation.
- How common are transportation benefit districts?
Transportation benefit districts are quite common, actually. Five counties and more than 100 cities in Washington have formed transportation benefit districts to fund transportation projects, according to Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington. Fifty-four of these rely on car tabs, ranging from $10 to $40, to generate their revenue. Forty-four cities use voter-approved sales taxes and six use a combination of sales taxes and car tabs.
- How do cities and counties form transportation benefit districts?
Washington state law provides two methods to form transportation benefit districts. The most common is through a vote by the city or county council. The other method is through a vote of the citizenry.
- Does Kirkland have a transportation benefit district?
Yes. Following a Feb. 10, 2014 public hearing, the Kirkland City Council approved Ordinance 4435 to form a transportation benefit district. The district’s boundaries are identical to Kirkland’s boundaries, known formally as the City of Kirkland Municipal Corporation.
- Who governs Kirkland’s transportation benefit district?
The Kirkland City Council governs Kirkland’s transportation benefit district. The council chose on Feb. 15, 2022 to adopt the transportation benefit district’s taxing authority and absorb the district.
From what authority can the City of Kirkland absorb the transportation benefit district?
The State of Washington. State lawmakers amended the rules in 2015 to allow legislative bodies, such as city or county councils, to assume the responsibilities of transportation benefit districts. To comply with the law, the City Council solicited the public’s feedback during a Feb. 15, 2022 public hearing.
- How much revenue does Kirkland’s transportation benefit district currently generate?
None. Kirkland’s transportation benefit district is one of six throughout Washington that has not yet adopted a funding mechanism. At the Feb. 15, 2022 Public Hearing, however, the Kirkland City Council adopted an ordinance assuming the rights and powers of the Kirkland transportation benefit district, which allows the City Council to implement $20 car tabs to fund some transportation improvements.