Why do we need a transportation benefit district in Lynden? Very simply, we need funding to maintain one of our city's very valuable assets: 60 miles of streets and even more miles of sidewalks and trails. Street construction, repair and maintenance are very expensive and funds generated by the transportation benefit district can be used for these needed improvements. Visitors who use our streets can help us pay for the maintenance through a modest increase in our sales tax.
The Lynden City Council approved the transportation benefit district for the city in July and, at the same time, created a transportation benefit district board consisting of the City Council members. These leaders understand the needs of the community and that it takes money to keep our transportation systems in good condition. Current economic times have limited the city's ability to keep the streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure in good condition.
The district board has identified some projects that need to be done as soon as possible. These projects include overlays to preserve streets, extending 17th Street to Main Street, pedestrian trails and bridges, and arterial reconstruction.
The transportation benefit district board is now requesting a 0.2 percent sales tax increase to pay for transportation improvements and maintenance, which translates to a 20-cent increase in taxes on a $100 purchase. One benefit of this taxing method is the city is able to collect funds from non-residents who use our city streets. Since visitors benefit from our transportation system, it makes sense that they also contribute to help us keep it in good condition.
The transportation benefit district sales tax is a good idea for three reasons.
1. Maintenance. For the past few years Lynden has drastically reduced our street maintenance budget in favor of funding other essential city services. We should all see our streets, sidewalks and trails as major assets for our city. It is our responsibility to keep them well-maintained; plus, if we do routine maintenance we can preserve the assets and avoid major and costly rebuilds.
2. Improvements. As the city grows we inherit streets that were formerly county roads. Lynden has historically upgraded these roads to meet city codes and standards. City-standard streets are at least 36 feet wide with curbs, gutters for stormwater and sidewalks. This standard provides a safe and useful roadway, but it is not inexpensive. Maintaining this standard in the new areas of town creates consistency and continuity with the established neighborhoods. Examples of streets that have been improved over the years are Bender, Vinup and Depot; examples of streets that need upgrading are Bradley, Line, Benson and Kamm Road, to name a few. The funds generated by the proposed sales tax increase could be used to improve these streets in the future.
3. Share the cost. A sales tax increase is a good way to generate revenue from everyone who uses the streets, including non-residents. When visitors come to Lynden they use our streets and sidewalks. It would be helpful if at least a small portion of the money visitors spend in Lynden stays in Lynden to assist us in maintaining street infrastructure. It is worth noting that both Bellingham and Ferndale have recognized this and have created transportation benefit districts to do what is proposed for Lynden.
As you consider this measure, I challenge you to spend some time driving through residential neighborhoods and business districts in other cities in our county. Look closely: pay attention to the areas that have on-street parking, sidewalks, curbs, gutters and handicap-accessible crosswalks, and to those that do not. It becomes very clear that Lynden's investment in such infrastructure not only adds attractiveness to our city for residents and functionality for merchants, but also improves safety.
I do not see a better way to meet our responsibility. The issue is critical and the transportation benefit district solution is compelling and fair. I encourage you to vote for the 0.2 percent transportation benefit district tax increase for the City of Lynden. I know that voting for taxes is a difficult thing to do, but I personally pledge to make sure that these funds will be used with integrity to improve and maintain our streets, sidewalks and trails -- valuable assets to pass on to future generations.
Scott Korthuis is mayor of Lynden.