Tacoma voters to decide whether to raise taxes to improve city streets

TACOMA -- People who live in Tacoma say the streets need to be fixed, and they’ve been saying it for decades.

Voters haven’t passed a levy to improve the streets for 47 years. But this year, on ballots for next Tuesday's general election, voters will be asked to spend millions to do just that.

“It’s one of the problems ... it’s quite literally all over the city,” said Steve Dunkelberger of the potholes and crumbling streets. He and his partner, Perceval the Pothole Pig, are well-known in Tacoma; they’re always on the hunt for potholes for their feature in the Tacoma Weekly.

“It becomes sort of an obsessive sort of thing. When I'm always driving, I go, ooh, that’s a good pothole,” said Dunkelberger.

While the condition of Tacoma streets give Dunkelberger plenty of material to use for his Pothole Pig features, he said he would welcome improvements, as would the volunteers working the Fix Tacoma Streets campaign phone bank Tuesday night.

The volunteers are asking voters to pass Proposition 3 and Proposition A. Both could generate $325 million to improve Tacoma streets.

“We live on a street that is fairly walkable, and I have a son in the first grade,” said Brenda Wiest, a campaign volunteer. “He walks to and from school every single day, and we need to have improved crosswalks as well..."

With a combination of funding sources, including a sales tax increase of .001 percent, 1.5 percent earnings tax on utilities, and a property tax levy, the average household is expected to pay about $7.50 a month, supporters say.

While everyone might not be on board with increased taxes, those who know these streets fear Tacoma can’t afford to wait anymore.

“Well, I think something has to be done and Tacomans realize that something has to be done, and this is the only card we can play so we got to play the card on the hand we’re dealt,” said Dunkelberger.

A streets levy hasn’t been passed in Tacoma since 1968. The last attempt in 2013 failed, but supporters believe Proposition 3 and Proposition A are much more comprehensive and the effect on taxpayers will be much less than previous proposals.