$1,039,000 TBD? TBD...

Point Roberts Transportation Benefit District is a separate legal entity created by Whatcom County in July 1991, under RCW 36.73, for the purpose of financing Point Roberts transportation related activities.

The County Council serves as the governing board of the District. The District’s only activity is to collect a $0.01 per gallon tax on gasoline sales within the boundaries of the District. The tax is collected by the County on the District’s behalf and is used for transportation purposes within the District as allowed by RCW 36.73.

- Accountability Audit Report, Point Roberts Transportation Benefit District, for the period January 1, 2014 through December 31, 2016 (Washington State Auditor)

When Mark Robbins and Arthur Reber proposed the formation of the Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee (PRCAC) in 2009 to help disperse the local Transportation Benefit District (TBD) funds, the balance of those funds was an astronomical few hundred thousand dollars. Ten years later, the PRCAC has become a general purpose advisory committee, and the fate of the TBD funds is still, well, TBD. At the January PRCAC meeting, outgoing Chair Jeff Christopher announced that the balance stood at $1,039,000. And according to the All Point Bulletin, the amount is increasing by about $20,000 per month.

Over those ten years, the PRCAC and county have struggled to come up with useful applications of the funds that stay within the spending guidelines: that is, they can only be spent on "transportation improvements necessitated by economic development and to improve the performance of the transportation system." (RCW 36.73.010)

According to RCW 36.73.020, the following criteria should be considered when selecting transportation improvements. The law is quite specific, so as you scan this list, ask yourself what in Point Roberts falls into any of these categories:

Come up empty? So do the PRCAC and county council.

The problem is that Point Roberts, with its small population and five gas stations, generates a disproportionately large amount of gas tax revenue but has little transportation infrastructure on which to spend it. The only transportation infrastructure we do have (our roads) is covered by the county roads district which is funded through property taxes, so TBD funds cannot be used for maintaining them. According to the Municipal Research and Services Center, Point Roberts is the only TBD in the state to use a border area fuel tax funding mechanism, under RCW 82.47,* which is only available to TBDs that include a Canadian border crossing. (This RCW restricts spending to "solely for the purposes of border area jurisdiction street maintenance and construction".)* So we've gone to some trouble to raise lots of money we apparently have no legitimate use for.

* (Thanks to Mark Robbins for pointing out these clarifications.)

Just how hard have the PRCAC and county council worked to figure out ways to spend this money? Since none of the defined criteria (a-i) in the law pertains to Point Roberts, they have had to really stretch the meaning and intent in “(j) Other criteria, as adopted by the governing body”. Last year they approved the use of TBD funds to pay a company to maintain the Garden Club’s "garden beautification flower beds" along Tyee Drive.

Since the county council is willing to hold its collective nose and broaden the “other criteria” category to absurd lengths, we suggest some other equally legitimate ways to use the million dollars we have in the fund to meet other clear community needs:

1. Upgrade the Point Roberts Marketplace:

Transportation benefit: fewer trips to Bellingham

2. Fix the Breakwaters sign:

Transportation benefit: less congestion caused by gawkers ogling the sign

3. Build a border wall:

Transportation benefit: fewer terrorists

4. Rename Lighthouse Park for something that's actually there:

Transportation benefit: Fewer tourists getting lost looking for lighthouse

5. Buy everyone in Point Roberts two years of free garbage pickup:

Transportation benefit: more time available in PRCAC meetings to discuss how to spend TBD funds

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