Albany seems to be headed for an election on a local fuel tax of 5 cents a gallon this November, judging by the city council's discussion Monday. The tax might raise about $1.25 million a year for street repairs.
There was no vote, but council members agreed that if there is to be a local gas tax, it might as well be 5 cents rather than 3 cents as previously discussed. It would apply to gas as well as diesel fuel, would take effect all at once rather than be phased in at the rate of one penny a year, and would have no planned ending date. The council also said the city should not hire a consultant for this issue.
The city staff has reservations about putting the issue to the voters in a special election this Nov. 7, preferring to spend a year or longer in preparation and getting "stakeholders" involved in the planning. But Mayor Sharon Konopa pushed for getting the issue decided sooner rather than later. "We can study this to death," she said. "Go to the voters and let them make the choice."
Councilman Bill Coburn argued for going to the voters in 2018, in either the primary or general election, when the city would not have to bear the cost of the election. The cost of a special election this Nov. 7 might be as high as $30,000, depending on whether there are other jurisdictions with issues on the ballot. A delay would also give the city a chance to redirect some funds toward the street fund first, Coburn said. Several hundred thousand dollars in former street funds was budgeted for other programs during the recession, when the city faced budget and personnel cuts.
One question was left unsettled: Which streets would get fixed first if the tax passes? The city staff will draw up a list for the council, but chances are most residential streets in bad shape will stay that way for many years. Last year, a council member made the point that repaving just two blocks of a residential street now costs about $750,000. At best, even a tax that yields $1.25 million a year will leave most streets unchanged for a long time.
All of this is still up in the air until the council actually passes a resolution putting the gas tax on the ballot. The filing deadline for the Nov. 7 special election date is Aug. 18. (hh)