The CRAB Board And The Ferry Taxing District

One interesting situation whose murkiness became more evident at the November 2, 2017, Skagit County Ferry meeting at the Community Center has to do with the potential $10 million contribution toward a new vessel available from the County Road Administration Board (CRAB).

Washington law creates CRAB and provides money for CRAB to pass on to counties for specific projects that can include a new Skagit County vessel.  However, the current laws and regulations aren’t clear whether the money is available just for passenger-only ferries, or whether vehicle ferries can get the money, too.

At the meeting it became clear that the Commissioners are getting conflicting legal advice on this question.  The County’s lawyer and a private lawyer in Seattle have told them the statutes do NOT make money available for vehicle ferries.  CRAB’s lawyers say they DO make such money available.  

Of course, to qualify for CRAB funding if it IS available Skagit County must meet one of several sets of requirements.  One such set requires the formation of a Ferry District that provides 5% of the overall cost of the new vessel project.  If that requirement is met, CRAB can fund up to 50% of the cost of the new vessel project.  At the meeting the Commissioners explained that a Guemes-Island-only Ferry District is a possibility they are considering.

The statutes and regulations on which the lawyers disagree are posted here.  The County is pursuing legislation in Olympia that would clarify the law on this point.  You can follow the bills through the Legislature’s web site. They are HB 1331 and S 5403.

The draft of HB 1331 allows for the creation of a taxing district  to provide revenues for vehicle ferries but “the governing body must either submit a proposition to create the ferry district to the voters in the portion of the county where the ferry district is intended to be created at the next general election, in which the ferry district must be approved by a majority of the voters voting on  the proposition in order to be created.” Only Guemes Island voters could approve a Guemes Island-only taxing district. The bill remains in the Transportation Committee as of June 21, 2017.

The Senate bill, S5403, also in committee, only strikes the passenger-only ferry reference and doesn’t require a vote on those in any proposed district.

- Bud Ullman, Guemes Island Ferry Committee