Next decision: sales tax or vehicle fees?

By Ann McCreary

Twisp Town Council members have approved creation of a Transportation Benefit District (TBD) to fund repairs and maintenance of Twisp streets through vehicle licensing fees or sales taxes.

After establishing the TBD at its March 22 meeting, the council now must decide which mechanism — fees or taxes — the district will use to generate revenue.

“There are differing processes, dependent upon their decision,” said Mayor Soo Ing-Moody. “The decision on the next steps will be made in open session during a council meeting.”

Council members have discussed a possible sales tax increase of 0.1-0.2 percent, which would require approved by voters. Based on 2015 figures, an additional 0.1 percent sales tax would generate about $25,000, according to town officials.

The council is also considering a $20 fee on vehicles registered in town. The fee would be collected by the state Department of Licensing when vehicles are registered and returned to the town.

No voter approval would be required for the district to charge fees of up to $20 per vehicle, which would produce about $13,900, based on figures from the state vehicle licensing department.

The fees would not be levied on campers, farm vehicles, mopeds, off-road vehicles, trailers or snowmobiles.

Revenue raised through the TBD would be used to repair potholes, pave streets, and conduct other transportation improvements.

The council invited public comment on the proposed TBD at its Feb. 9 meeting, at which about five people spoke, and held a formal public hearing on March 8, which drew no public comment.

The Twisp Council will serve as the board of directors for the district.

Letter to District 6

In other business, the council approved a letter to Okanogan County Fire District 6 expressing concern about potential liability to the town as a result of changes in the “command structure” of the fire district.

Twisp contracts with Fire District 6 for fire protection. The concern about liability stems from a two-year paid leave that was granted to former Fire Chief Don Waller, effective at the beginning of this year.

During the leave Waller will be paid for more than 4,000 hours of accumulated leave and compensation time, will continue to receive benefits, including the use of a district fire vehicle, and will continue to respond to fire calls.

Cody Acord, assistant chief under Waller, has been named interim chief during Waller’s leave.

The current agreement for fire protection between the town and District 6 states that “the Town agrees that it will appoint the Chief of the District as Fire Chief of the Town,” the letter sent this week to Fire District 6 said.

“Twisp is concerned that the incident command structure currently being provided by District 6 is unclear, and that certain liabilities may exist and extend to Twisp if typical command structure practices are not followed during emergency responses,” the letter said.

The letter said the agreement between the town and the fire district implies that the district fire chief will act as fire chief of the town in all district actions performed in Twisp.

“If District 6 has developed a new command structure for incident response that allows for someone other than the Fire Chief of the Town to ultimately direct and take responsibility for actions during emergency response, we feel the Town Council of Twisp should be notified and provided a clear explanation on how the new command structure is consistent with our contracted obligations and does not increase liabilities to Twisp,” the letter said.

Twisp’s five-year contract for fire protection with Fire District 6 extends through 2017.

Since Waller’s leave was approved in December as an addendum to his employment contract, the arrangement has generated criticism from the public and prompted the fire district’s board of commissioners to consult with attorneys about the possibility of changing or rescinding the agreement.