Bend residents will have an opportunity this week to weigh in on a proposal that would create a new street tax to tackle some $30 million worth of needed street projects that currently have no source of funding.
City staff last week presented councilors with several ways to approach the almost $100 million in backlogged transportation projects that have been largely idling since the start of the recession. Councilors endorsed a plan that focused much of the short-term efforts on the Reed Market Road corridor between 3rd Street and 27th Street where the major east-west arterial would be widened to three lanes. The project also includes a multi-lane roundabout at 15th Street and a new bridge at American Lane. However, residents will have a chance to discuss their transportation priorities with city staff at Thursday night's open house from 5-7 p.m. at the Bend City Hall, 710 NW Wall St.
Other big ticket priorities identified by staff as candidates for funding include the Empire corridor, where the city would like to extend the existing road east to 27th Street near the Bend Pine Nursery, and the Murphy Road area near the Bend Parkway on Bend's south side.
There's just one catch: the city will have to convince voters to sign off on the plan, which would essentially swap the soon-to-expire downtown revitalization tax for a general street improvement levy. While homeowners wouldn't see their taxes increase, per se, the levy, if approved, would forestall a slight decrease in local property taxes, the equivalent of $46 per year for the owner of a property assessed at $170,000, for example.
Bend's Transportation Engineering Manager, Nick Arnis, said the bond is needed in part to cover the funding gap that has opened as a result of the precipitous decline in construction. During the boom times, the industry bolstered the city's transportation budget through fees, known as system development charges (SDC), that developers paid to help cover the cost of growth. Critics long argued that those fees were insufficient to fund the true cost of infrastructure. Now that growth has curtailed, the city faces a backlog of major transportation projects needed to service the city's population.
Arnis said the city expects to take in about $700,000 worth of SDC revenues this year and that the city's SDC transportation fund would finish the year with a roughly $4 million balance. By way of contrast, the Reed Market project alone is estimated to run more than $30 million. But due to statutory restrictions, the city is prohibited from relying exclusively on SDCs to cover the cost of the Reed Market project, as well as many of the other major items on the transportation to-do list. That means the city will have to find some means to bridge the funding gap, regardless of whether the construction industry picks up. While the money wouldn't be available for street maintenance, such as filling potholes, Arnis said the bond would fund some of the larger transportation system upgrades that would have outstripped the city's resources even during the banner SDC collection years when revenues were closer to $4 million. Residents can also review the project list at the city's website, ci.bend.or.us and comment online. (EF)
Justice Conference Comes to Bend
On Friday and Saturday, Feb. 11-12, more than 650 people will descend on the Riverhouse Conference Center for the Justice Conference, a gathering a leading social activists, scholars, artists and organizational leaders who will be speaking and presenting on the issue of global justice.
Topics at the conference, which is presented by World Relief, a faith-based social justice organization with an office here in Bend, include human trafficking, human rights, theology, immigration, HIV and AIDS awareness, and foreign policy, just to name a few. There will also be more than 50 partnering organizations on hand from all over the country, in addition to visitors from 25 different states and a number of different countries.
Shayne Moore is one of the presenters at the conference and is traveling to Bend from her home outside of Chicago. She is the author of Global Soccer Mom, a book about her experiences as a stay-at-home mom who has been active in social justice advocacy, which has taken her all the way to Africa. Moore is also one of the original members of ONE, a group founded by Bono and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that works to eradicate poverty worldwide. She'll be speaking about her group and how people can get involved in the fight against poverty.
"There is hope. All of these organizations (that will be at the conference) have realized that we can't reinvent the wheel, but we can work together," says Moore over the phone from the Midwest before making her first trip to Oregon later in the week.
The Justice Conference is open to the public and Deschutes county residents are eligible for a discount if they register by February 9. For more information and a schedule of events, visit thejusticeconference.com. (MB)