Local Election

Ferndale gas tax fuels debate

What some see as a sensible way to repair Ferndale roads has sparked resistance from gas station owners who believe a penny can make a big difference.

A measure on the Nov. 4 ballot asks voters to approve a penny-per-gallon gas tax in Ferndale’s city limits. The city estimates the tax could generate $178,000 annually; all money raised would go toward maintenance and construction of city roads.

City Council has considered a measure like this in the past, and Ferndale is one of the few eligible cities in Whatcom County that has not yet adopted a border-city gas tax. But after losing a public works trust fund two years ago and with the state prioritizing education funding, Mayor Gary Jensen said the council has looked for new ways to fund road repairs.

Yet gas station owners don’t see the penny-per-gallon gas tax as the solution, and believe it is unfair for their businesses to be responsible for the street budget.

“To us, every penny matters,” said Victor Boulos, operations manager of Keith Oil, which operates a gas station in Ferndale. “As operators, a penny is a lot of money.”

The first 60,000 gallons a month pumped at each station would be exempt from the tax.

Boulos said his gas station usually would not hit that threshold, yet he opposes the tax because it doesn’t encourage the business to grow. He thinks there are other ways for Ferndale to gain revenue for road repairs.

Councilman Jon Mutchler said he had opposed a gas tax in the past, but the exemption is what swayed him the other way. He said the council arrived at the 60,000-gallon figure after consulting with city officials and at least one gas station owner, then splitting the difference between their estimates. He said he did not want to cause a burden to smaller gas stations.

Fellow councilman Brent Goodrich said that figure was “pulled out of the air,” and he opposes the tax. He and other opponents estimate that only a couple stations would pump more than 60,000 gallons in a month.

Mutchler noted that Pilot Flying J, one of the stations that likely would hit the tax threshold, is owned by Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam.

“I don’t think it’s going to affect his lifestyle,” Mutchler said.

Other possible measures, such as raising property taxes or adding a fee to annual car license renewals, don’t place the burden on the right people, Mutchler said. It should not punish somebody for owning a vehicle, it should focus on people that drive their vehicle and use the roads, he said.

Mayor Jensen said he understands why gas station owners would oppose the tax, saying they “might have to eat that penny.” But he said it would get people from outside the city, like those traveling from Canada, to help fix the roads.

“Cities like ours are tying to find any little bit they can to be able to supplement what we’re not getting down south,” Jensen said, referring to state government in Olympia.