By ANN McCREARY
Okanogan County voters will have a chance this fall to decide whether they are willing to pay an additional 4 cents per $10 purchase to support public bus service connecting communities within the county.
A board made up of elected officials from towns and cities throughout the county voted last week to put the measure on the November ballot.
The board has overseen development of plans for a public transportation system during the past year, but two of the six board members voted last week against the putting the proposal on the ballot because of the size of the sales tax increase.
The proposed bus service, which the board decided to call simply “Transit Authority,” envisions a transit hub located in the central Omak/Okanogan area, with routes extending to other principal cities and towns throughout the county. The buses would help people travel to medical, education, government and commercial centers.
Clay Hill, a Twisp Council member representing Twisp on the transit board, supported the decision to place the measure on the ballot. A community needs survey conducted in the Methow Valley last year by Room One showed that 76 percent of people in the valley would use more bus service if it were available, he said.
“That’s where it germinated,” Hill said. “The civic leaders have been responsive to that call, done things in a timely manner and we’re going to get a chance to vote on it.”
The amount of the sales tax in the proposal made some of the transit board members “a little gun shy and reluctant,” Hill said.
However, a 0.4 percent sales tax is the minimum amount necessary to fund a bus system that would serve the Methow Valley with daily bus service, he said. Any amount below 0.4 percent would mean the Methow Valley would not be included in the transit system.
“That is why we over in the Methow are supporting a 0.4 percent increase, because we have this survey saying we need bus service,” Hill said.
The proposed bus service would include daily runs between the Methow and Okanogan valleys, and between Winthrop, Twisp and Pateros, as well as door-to-door elderly and disabled service in areas currently served by Okanogan County Transportation and Nutrition, sometimes called the “senior bus.”
Michael Stewart, a member of the Okanogan County Veterans Board, appeared at the transit board meeting to express support for the bus proposal.
“We have about 600 veterans using services at the Tonasket [veterans outreach] clinic,” Stewart said. “We’re always looking for ways to transport our veterans.”
Hill said the vote to put the proposal on the ballot was split, with representatives of Omak and Tonasket opposed, and representatives of Pateros, Twisp, Okanogan and Brewster in favor.