Last Gas Effort | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Last Gas Effort

Proposed fuel tax would help City repair roads

In the late 2000s, the City of Bend failed to find additional funding to fix its crumbling streets, City Councilor Sally Russell explains. And Bendites are feeling the effects of that failure today.

"So here we are 2015, almost 2016, and we're looking at somewhere around 60 to 80 million dollars. And that's increasing around two million dollars per year," she says. "Our community has to pay two million dollars in the future to bring our roads up to a maintainable standard."

Russell says the City has a Pavement Condition Index—a national road standard—for every street in Bend. Gravel streets are also part of the City's infrastructure.

"So we have a lot of different streets to deal with," she says. "There is a huge range and variety of streets and part of it has to do with how they are built, part of it has to do with how they were maintained. And some of them were never truly constructed."

In August, Council unanimously adopted resolution 3002, which temporarily formed the Street Maintenance Funding Committee in order to find additional funding. The committee was composed of business owners, environmental nonprofits, Bend 2030 Executive Director Erin Foote Marlowe, City Councilor Doug Knight, and Sally Russell as Mayor Pro Tem. The committee's summary report found that "committee polling show[ed] a preference for the first option: Baseline 1—Improve [the] entire street system, with a fuel tax. Three-fourths of Committee members choose or prefer this option over the others," according to the report.

On Monday, Nov. 30 a special City Council meeting was called to hold a public hearing on the proposed fuel tax. Five people spoke and four were in support of a fuel tax.

Erin Foote Marlowe read a letter Bend 2030 submitted to Council in favor of a fuel tax. She says one of the organization's top priorities in 2015 was to address the transportation system—which includes crumbling roads, unsafe pedestrian crossings, and bike paths.

"So over the year we've engaged thousands of people in asking them how do we fix these problems, and we've just consistently heard that a gas tax is top priority and that people would support it," she says.

Justin Livingston, a member of the committee, addressed Council as a community member. He said by holding a special election in March it would cost the City $60,000 to $70,000 to host a special election, but that there would be no cost to wait until May to add the ballot measure.

The majority of councilors supported putting the fuel tax on the March ballot; however, councilors Victor Chudowsky and Casey Roats did not. Chudowsky said charging taxpayers $60,000 to $70,000 is a "waste of money." He continued: "Using taxpayer money in order to tax people more—it's almost like double dipping."

Roats reiterated the cost of the March election and said if the measure failed then "we've wasted 60 to 70 thousand dollars."

But if the Council decides to wait until May or even until the November 2016 election, it will continue to add to the backlog of money needed to repair the roads.

"If you look at the pavement condition indexes, if you allow any single street to get past a certain point, the cost to bring it back up to maintainable standards increases exponentially," Russell says. According to the City's Bend Streets Funding website, the cost of repairing one lane mile spans from $10,000 for a crack seal to $90,000 if the lane needs an overlay or repaving. And the cost of completely reconstructing the same area of a street can range from $422,000 to $633,000.

Another reason councilors supported the March ballot measure was to make sure that during the peak tourism months, visitors—around 66 percent who visit Bend rent cars—are absorbed into the proposed tax.

Overall, the City needs to find $2.7 million annually to keep up with road repairs. While it receives 47 percent—about $4.6 million in the 2015-2016 fiscal year—of its current funding from the state gas tax, the money still isn't an adequate amount to repair streets.

"There's a huge citizen component that looks at the budget and the proposed budget before it ever comes to Council, so this is the third year I've been through this process—which is very in-depth—and the message every year has been we have been losing our investments in our streets," says Russell. "And this time when it came up it was like, OK, this is not being fiscally responsible, and we need to look at a better way of funding."

While the Council didn't decide on a 5 or 10 cent fuel tax, they did discuss a reauthorization clause to be added to the ballot. While the official vote will be held at Wednesday's regular City Council meeting, the majority of Council supported a 10-year reauthorization.

Councilor Russell believes that 10 years would be enough to fix the problem and would show that Council is being fiscally responsible.

The ballot needs to be filed by Jan. 7, 2016, so Council will have its final vote on Dec. 2.

"It's always tough to be put in a position where you are asking people for increased revenues," says Russell. "I've been very conscious of this uncomfortable position as a councilor that I have to address, but I'm also really committed to not sitting on my hands and having our community pay for our streets at an accelerated pace."

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