A group of property owners began to cast their votes yesterday on whether to move forward with a $14 million project that would bring infrastructure and streetscape improvements to a section of downtown Tacoma designated a Local Improvement District.
It’s the second time in less than two years that property owners near St. Helens Ave., Broadway, and Market St., between So. 2nd St. and So. 9th St., have voted on an innovative LID that would time much needed sewer, water, and storm water upgrades with street improvements that include new sidewalks, landscaping, streetlights, and painted lanes directing two-way traffic along a section of Broadway.
This week’s vote follows a poll taken last year.
At that time, owners of 246 parcels in the LID narrowly rejected a plan to pay $3.9 million for the aesthetic improvements. But LID supporters argued that votes were weighted based upon assessed property value. They argued that the votes of property owners with more property in the LID carried more weight. As such, according to City staff, last year’s vote showed approximately 51 percent opposed the LID; however, approximately 65 percent of parcel owners (160 parcel owners) supported the LID, and approximately 35 percent (86 parcel owners) opposed it. As a result, on April 18, 2006, City Council voted 6-3 to overrule property owners and form the LID.
Since 2004, however, when the original estimate was completed, the project cost has climbed, and property owners now face a $5.8 million bill for their share of improvements. Because costs exceeded the original bid by more than 10 percent, state law requires the City to conduct another poll of property owners.
Yesterday afternoon, property owners met in a seventh-floor conference room at City Hall to learn more about the project and pose questions to City staff.
Whether property owners vote to pay for the additional LID costs or reject the plan, City Council could be left with several options. “If an overwhelming majority comes back and says no [to the project], we’ll have to regroup,” said Public Works LID representative Ralph Rodriguez, who helped facilitate yesterday’s meeting.
One scenario: if a majority percentage of total votes equal opposition to the LID, but a majority of individual property owners support it, councilmembers could again elect to overrule the vote and move forward on the project.
Another scenario: the City could proceed with the water, sewer, and storm water infrastructure upgrades, and remove or scale down the aesthetic improvements from the project that would have been paid for by property owners.
Also, the City could rebid the project in the hopes of finding a contractor who could complete the work for less money. Originally, the City received bids from four contractors ranging in price from $11.5 million to approximately $15 million.
Finally, City Council could vote to remove the original ordinance that established the LID. “That would be a decision for the council,” said Rodriguez. “City Council would have to go back and ring that bell.”
Property owner and LID opponent William Riley argued that if voters this week reject the plan, they are ultimately rejecting the LID. “Rejection, in my mind, would be rejection of the LID,” he said.
On July 31, councilmembers considered paying the $1.9 million difference either by tapping the city’s contingency fund or eliminating other infrastructure improvement projects, but feared that such a move would set a precedent for other LIDs.
“The appropriate action is to poll owners again,” said City Manager Eric Anderson. “The results will determine whether to go forward.”
Votes will be collected through Aug. 17. City Council is expected to discuss the results during its study session Aug. 21. The City will also post results on the Broadway LID Web site, located at http://www.cityoftacoma.org/Page.aspx?nid=629 .