Sound Publishing file photo

Sound Publishing file photo

King County Council authorizes staff to draft road levy ballot measure

The county is projected to run out of capital funding for roads and bridges by 2025.

Voters in unincorporated King County could be asked to increase a levy lid to help fund roads amid a decline in revenues.

If approved by voters, the levy lid could be raised to $2.25 per $1,000 of assessed property value, which is the maximum the county is allowed to collect. Currently, the collection rate is about $1.81 per $1,000 of assessed property value. In total, the levy could generate around $164 million over eight years, or some $22 million annually. While significant, it’s far less than what is needed to fully fund the county’s roads department.

“Even if we did get $22 million it would help, but it would not solve the problem,” said King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert at an Oct. 28 meeting of the Local Services committee.

The committee directed staff to begin drafting an ordinance that could appear on the ballot during the August or November elections in 2020. Even if it passes, further funding mechanisms will have to be found.

Currently only about 11 percent of residents in the county are paying to maintain infrastructure like roads and bridges in unincorporated areas. Many areas — and their respective tax bases — already have been annexed into cities. King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci said cities would likely have to chip in to support the infrastructure in the future.

“The fix to adequate county road funding is going to be a countywide fix. There’s just no way to support the level of infrastructure need that we have entirely out of revenue from unincorporated King County,” Balducci said.

The county is projected to run out of capital funding for roads and bridges by 2025. About 80 percent of the county’s roads budget comes from property taxes from the roads levy. As the county’s tax base shrinks, property value has also risen faster than the 1 percent, which the county is allowed to raise property taxes annually.

When the county runs out of capital funding, it won’t have money for new construction and will essentially be “managing the decline,” as Lambert puts it.

Roads and bridges in unincorporated King County see an average of 1 million vehicle trips a day. Maintenance for the infrastructure is only paid for by the roughly 250,000 residents in unincorporated parts of the county. Additionally, there’s not much commercial activity outside of cities, so the county doesn’t get much sales tax.

On top of the levy, the county could ask voters to approve a taxing district, which could raise between $5 million and $10 million annually. A previous district was repealed in 2014.

However, even those wouldn’t bridge the budget gap the county is facing. To maintain and improve roads, the county needs at least an additional $250 million. If that amount isn’t found, the county could start closing rural bridges and letting roads return to gravel.

By 2040, the county predicts some 35 bridges will be either closed or have weight restrictions placed on them.

More in News

Kirkland police accused of ‘intense and traumatic’ force against teen

The YMCA spoke out on the incident during a press conference in Seattle on Wednesday.

Metro seeking community input on future RapidRide K-Line in Kirkland, Bellevue

The survey opened on Nov. 12 and slated to close on Nov. 26.

Political activist Tim Eyman campaigns for Initiative 976 on Nov. 5 in downtown Bellevue. The initiative promised $30 car tabs while functionally eliminating the ability of agencies like Sound Transit to raise taxes for its projects. Photo by Aaron Kunkler
Election analysis: Eastside cities largely voted against I-976

Most Eastside cities weren’t swayed by I-976, though more voters approved it than the county average.

As part of construction, the chapel at Northwest University will get some additions. Blake Peterson/staff photo
Kirkland approves Northwest University’s 20-year master plan

The master plan proposes about 364,910 square feet of building and parking improvements.

A King County judge found the company misled customers into thinking it was a charity. Photo courtesy of the state Attorney General’s office
Judge rules Value Village deceived customers

The King County judge found the company misled customers into thinking it was a charity.

Bob Neir. Photo courtesy Christopher Neir
Kirkland honors former mayor and councilmember Bob Neir

The longtime Kirkland resident, business owner and civic leader recently died at age 90.

King County will challenge legality of I-976

County Executive Dow Constantine: ‘We must clean up another mess that Tim Eyman has created for our state, our region, and our economy’

Voters are narrowly rejecting affirmative action

The no camp on affirmative action is winning by just over one point.

I-976 is passing, worrying transit advocates

The initiative promises $30 car tabs, but opponents say it will destroy state transit infrastructure.

Most Read