The clock is ticking on a House bill to allow Wenatchee to add to sales tax in order to refinance the defaulted-upon Town Toyota Center arena.
OLYMPIA — A plan to rescue Town Toyota Center arena in Wenatchee has cleared the House Ways and Means Committee, but faces more hurdles before it lands on the governor’s desk for signature.
The House committee approved SB 5984 by a vote of 17 to 9. The Senate has already approved the bill.
“It’s never over until it’s over,” Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz said on Tuesday. “Until the governor signs the bill, I will not sleep well at night. We are moving along. I would hope that the floor will get a chance to vote on it this week. There’s still a long ways to go.”
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The bill would allow the city of Wenatchee to impose a 0.2 percent sales-tax increase and the nine municipalities that form the Greater Wenatchee Regional Events Center Public Facilities District (PFD), which owns the arena, to put a 0.1 percent sale-tax increase proposal to voters.
Monday’s vote came after committee members defeated an amendment presented by Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches, which would have eliminated Wenatchee’s ability to impose the 0.2 percent sales-tax increase instead of submitting it to voters.
The bill now heads to the House Rules Committee for review. Rep. Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee, sits on the committee.
If it’s not put on hold in the Rules Committee, it could head to the House floor for a vote late this week or next, where it could still be amended.
“You’re never close to anything until the governor signs it,” Armstrong said. “I think we’re going to get there, but it’s not a slam-dunk vote by any means.”
The bill is considered a last-ditch effort to save the arena, which defaulted on its $42 million in financing Dec. 1 and is running out of funding to keep its doors open.
The funds would be used to get long-term financing and repay the arena’s creditors.
If everything falls into place, Wenatchee will impose the 0.2 percent sales-tax increase. Then, the nine municipalities that form the PFD would put a 0.1 percent sales-tax increase on the April ballot for voters.
So far, five of the nine municipalities have agreed to put the smaller tax to a vote. The remaining four crucial votes could all come this week.
Chelan and Waterville could decide Wednesday. Wenatchee is expected to approve the issue Thursday. Rock Island could also vote Thursday.
Each elected board for each of the nine PFD municipalities must independently agree to put the 0.1 percent sales-tax issue to voters.
If they all agree, the PFD board must also vote to seek the 0.1 percent tax, and then get documentation to the Chelan and Douglas county auditors by 4:30 p.m. March 2. That’s the deadline for getting anything on the ballot for the April 17 election.
Kuntz testified before the House Ways and Means Committee last week that the city wouldn’t seek the imposed tax were it not for the arena’s mounting financial losses, fueled by attorney fees, and tight time frame.