Tuesday’s election will give voters in Spokane County an opportunity to shape the future of public transportation in our community. The Spokane Transit Authority is asking for a 0.03 percent sales tax increase to avoid devastating cuts in bus service.
Significant changes that have been made at STA in the year and a half since voters narrowly rejected a previous sales tax proposal. Those changes were made to address the concerns expressed by community members, including me.
The most visible opponent of the ballot issue, former City Councilman Joel Crosby, has spoken in the community — including in an op-ed column in The Spokesman-Review — about the old STA and problems that existed when he was a board member in 1988-90 and on the steering committee for the Downtown Transit Project (The Plaza). His comments don’t describe the new STA.
As a result of the failed funding proposition of September 2002, the STA board created a board-led task force to restructure the organization, to respond to the concerns raised in that 2002 campaign and, more importantly, to engage the community in a discussion about what it wants and expects from its public transportation agency. This was the most exhaustive public outreach program in the history of the STA, and it dealt with every aspect of the agency.
As a result, STA is now leaner in its management structure and more efficient in its management practices. It is more community-responsive and customer-driven and more fiscally accountable in how it manages the revenue it gets from the taxpayers. Unlike the STA of old, the new STA is focused on building ridership by improving customer service and convenience. This new focus has led to programs like the Eagle Pass with Eastern Washington University. This program alone has increased ridership by 500 to 800 passengers per day for the system.
The STA has a new chief executive officer from the business community in Kim Zentz, who has streamlined administrative staffing levels and improved budgetary and contracting scrutiny that yielded hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings. She also conducted dozens of community meetings to engage the public in the planning and redesign of its transit system.
In addition, she formed and nurtured local partnerships that are making transit a key player in the economic development of our region, and she reshaped the outlook on the future of STA that is broad, open and specifically contingent on public participation.
As an example of the new attitude at STA and on the board, this ballot measure only authorizes the sales tax increase through June 2009 at which point it must come back to you the voter and ask, “Did we do what we said we were going to do and did we earn your trust?” If STA did those things, you will be able to extend the sales tax. If voters refuse to authorize an extension at that time, the sales tax will roll back to today’s level.
So, while some in the community would like to focus on the STA of the past and punish the agency and the community for decisions made then, this board is focused on the STA of the future, correcting those deficiencies of past management as well as creating a strong, responsive and accountable agency for the region.
STA eliminates 4,000 cars per day from area roads and reduces air pollution by approximately 6,600 tons per year in Spokane County. STA transports thousands of residents to and from work, shopping, doctor appointments, school and other events every day of the year. STA is poised to be a contributor to the quality of life and the economic health of this region and emerges from a restructuring that makes it deserving of your support on May 18.
You, the voters, have a chance to accept false assertions, ignore the facts, continue to live in the past and vote no, or you can look at the facts, see the changes made at STA to provide you with the best public transportation system possible for the dollar, and vote yes. Good public transportation is essential for our economy and vital to our community.
I offer my thanks, in advance, to all of the citizens who will realize the importance of this issue and will express themselves by voting May 18.
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