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Transit election decision due next Wednesday

"After months of meetings and uncertainty, Martha Rose should finally know Wednesday when the fate of Island Transit will be decided.The board of the Public Transportation Benefit Area, which oversees operations, will meet Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. to decide if and when to put a sales tax increase on the ballot. The meeting location is the Commissioners' Hearing Room in the Island County Courthouse in Coupeville.Board chairman Bill Thorn said Thursday that he doesn't expect much more discussion -- not after the many meeting already held since I-695, which gutted Island Transit's funding by two-thirds, was approved by voters last November.We've heard what we need to hear, Thorn said. He expects a majority of the board to back a motion to ask the voters for a sales tax increase of three-tenths of one percent ( 3 cents on a $10 purchase) to support Island Transit.The main question at Wednesday's meeting, Thorn said, is when's the best timing? The tax increase could be presented to voters as early as May 16 or as late as the statewide primary on Sept. 19.Earlier this month, the board was hoping it would soon learn what the state Legislature will do this session to help local transit agencies. But that may not happen as the Legislature is still in session. We can't wait, Thorn said. March 31 is the last day for the board to file a resolution with the auditor to put an issue on the May 16 ballot.Rose, the director of Island Transit, said her employees have been tense, due to the uncertainty of funding to keep their paychecks coming. Because of that, she favors an earlier election date. But she also realizes the board has many factors to consider. I would have preferred April, she said, alluding to an election date already bypassed. But I know they have the best interest of transit in mind. During the month of post I-695 meetings, it was often proposed that the fare-free transit service adopt fares even though Rose argued collecting fares would cost more than the effort would produce in revenue.Thorn sides with Rose on the issue, and he said the board probably won't pursue the idea. It was seriously considered but the majority believe it's the wrong direction to head, he said."

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