Government officials are still considering their options in order to avoid what the county says is an “unprecedented” step back in time for commuters.

In the absence of legislative funding, cuts to King County Metro service would roll back service to 1997 levels, despite the fact the county has grown 22 percent with 360,00 more people, county officials said in a statement. At a time when population growth calls for increasing service by 15 percent under Metro’s service guidelines, Metro faces cuts of up to 17 percent.

A final option for the county to avoid going through with these cuts is to pay for Metro servies via a sales tax, if voters approve.

The county’s first choice would have been a balanced statewide transportation package provided by the state Legislature, with local options for funding Metro Transit and roads in the cities and unincorporated areas. But with lawmakers in Olympia not budging to fund Metro Transit, county officials said they will develop legislation by the end of the year to ask voters to save bus service and maintain roads.

“Time is running out. The people of this region deserve the right to vote on whether or not to accept drastic transit cuts,” Councilmember Larry Phillips said in a statement. Phillips is the chair of the Council’s Transportation, Economy, and Environment Committee. “Putting this decision in front of voters in time to save their transit system, with or without state legislative action, is the right thing to do.”

By year’s end, King County officials may be asking voters on the ballot to avoid the Metro cuts by raising the sales tax in 2014, a move that would affect the poor and middle class most, the Seattle Times reported. The county is considering a sales-tax hike of 0.1 percent or 10 cents per $100 purchase and a $60 car-tab fee.

Revenues collected by the sales tax would be distributed to Metro Transit for bus service, and to funding roads and transportation needs in cities and unincorporated King County.

In 2012, the Legislature granted King County temporary funding authority for transit for two years, pending action on a comprehensive statewide transportation package. Those two years will expire in 2014, along with fund reserves.

Without a comprehensive statewide transportation package from the state (or King County voter support for a sales-tax hike), Metro must follow through on a proposal to cancel 74 bus routes and reduce and revise another 107 routes to reduce costs starting next year.

Metro Transit held off making service cuts for five years by creating more than $800 million in reforms and efficiencies, along with the temporary Congestion Reduction Charge. Metro needs an estimated $75 million in annual revenue to keep existing service on the road and purchase replacement buses.

Another 150 daily bus trips between West Seattle and downtown Seattle–buses that ease construction congestion during the Alaskan Way Viaduct project–also are at risk of being canceled in June when state funding ends.

The county has also been taking other precautions.

Last week, King County and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 587 reached a tentative agreement on a new three-year contract with bus operators, mechanics, and other Metro workers. The tentative agreement calls for a one-year wage freeze followed by a 2 percent fixed-rate wage increase in each of the remaining two years of the contract. County officials said the tentative wage agreement would save Metro between $8.4 million and $12.7 million over the life of the contract, or about 40,000 of the 600,000 hours of bus service that would have to be cut in the absence of stable funding.

In October, Metro carried 412,000 average weekday rides, its second-highest ever. The agency is nearing the annual record of 119 million riders last seen in 2008.

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