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Election primer: CUBS eyes expansion, seeks sales tax increase
Election primer: CUBS eyes expansion, seeks sales tax increase

In addition to choosing a U.S. president and state governor, Longview and Kelso voters must decide whether to support a small sales tax increase that would fund the Community Urban Bus Service.

Ballots for the mail-in election were sent to voters last Friday and must be returned to the elections office by 8 p.m. Nov. 4.

The CUBS ballot measure asks voters to approve a sales tax increase of two-tenths of 1 percent, which amounts to two cents on a $10 purchase. If the measure passes, CUBS’s total sales tax allotment would be three-tenths of 1 percent, and sales tax in Longview and Kelso would rise from 7.7 to 7.9 percent.

This would give CUBS roughly an extra $2 million in annual revenue needed to save the bus service and allow CUBS to expand routes and cut wait times, the CUBS board says. The Cowlitz Transit Authority board hopes enhancing the bus service would attract riders other than people without cars or bikes.

Two Longview car dealerships, however, oppose the proposed tax hike. Managers at Bud Clary Chevrolet and Columbia Ford say if it passes, they could lose millions of dollars in business selling fleet vehicles to government agencies around the state. That’s because the county’s sales tax of 8 percent on vehicle purchases is among the lowest in Washington.

Last month, Bud Clary’s general manager, Jim Scott, warned that if the county lost its low tax advantage, Bud Clary and Columbia Ford might have to lay off employees, and the city of Longview could lose $900,000 in annual sales tax revenues from sales of cars and vans to the government.

CTA board members say that without the sales tax hike, the bus service won’t stay afloat for much longer.

The bus service has been drawing down its reserves at a rate of about $500,000 a year ever since a 1999 state initiative slashed motor vehicle excise taxes, reducing CUBS’ revenue by 47 percent. Also, CUBS’ current tax allocation of one tenth of 1 percent is the very lowest in the state. Other bus systems are funded by as much as six-tenths or eight-tenths of 1 percent in sales tax.

The CTA decided to put the tax measure on November’s ballot after seeing the results of community phone survey in July. Of the 302 people contacted, 75 percent said they’d support the sales tax hike to improve the bus service.

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