HASSO HERING

A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

A city street user tax in distant future?

Written August 7th, 2023 by Hasso Hering

The pavement on Third Avenue and Jackson Street in Albany on May 8, 2022.

At City Hall, Albany officials are taking another stab at finding a way to pay for maintaining and repairing streets. It will take more than a year of meetings, discussions, and public “outreach.” Wish them luck, for the chance of solving this issue is small.

At Monday’s work session of the city council, Public Works Director Chris Bailey gave an outline of what to expect. To get it all, it’s best to watch the meeting on YouTube.

Here’s the gist:

Unlike the last few times, this effort will include local streets and not just the main thoroughfares. The review will cover estimates of what it would cost to repair those streets that need fixing, plus what it costs to maintain the system so all streets are in satisfactory shape.

The city’s last compilation of street data including cost estimates, available on www.cityofalbany.net, is hopelessly out of date. Expenses related to street repairs now are shockingly higher, according to Bailey.

The local share of the state fuel tax is the main source of street funds, and it has not been enough to meet the need for decades.

Here’s my guess of what the outcome of this series of presentations and discussions over the next few months will be.

Based on Albany’s experience, there is no way city voters will approve a local gas tax to fix potholes. Voter approval of a bond issue to improve or maintain a selected number of specific streets is almost as unlikely.

So the council will be tempted to consider something else. For instance, it may want to impose a street maintenance fee similiar to the stormwater fee and the city service fee that previous councils added to the monthly water and sewer bills.

Such a fee, though, would not raise the many millions of dollars needed to make a big dent in the backlog of streets urgently needing repair.

There doesn’t seem to be a way out. Especially not if the gas tax disappears as a significant revenue source. We’re on course to make that happen over the next few decades.

Maybe there’s this solution in the future: Every vehicle will be required to have the technology now used by the state’s OreGo program of collecting a tax based on miles driven. As soon as a vehicle from anywhere enters Albany streets, city charges would accumulate. And once a month the owner would get billed. Failure to pay would result in the vehicle being remotely disabled.

Far-fetched? Maybe not. Not if somebody doesn’t come up with a better idea. (hh)





13 responses to “A city street user tax in distant future?”

  1. Abe Cee says:

    Whatever is the end result should not only focus on miles driven but on the weight of the vehicle used for those miles. Also, include a “studded tire” surcharge.

    Develop a detailed report that states the anticipated costs for a mile for building and upkeep and include the number of vehicles that drive that mile of roadway. And include a cost for wear and tear caused by bicycles, scooters, etc since they cause damage as well. Don’t forget to include paint in the budget for restriping!

  2. Dan Roddy says:

    Thank you Hasso for bringing to light an issue that has bothered me for decades since we lived in town. Deferred maintenance of Albany city streets has put Albany residences in this difficult situation. It is also interesting to notice which Albany streets are in good repair. My bike ride into town last Sunday raised my ire over this. I am sure no one wants to remember a surplus of funds that Albany had not long ago. One might even think the city needed street repair more than a new waterfront park.

  3. Hartman says:

    If Hasso is to be believed, (“Based on Albany’s experience, there is no way city voters will approve a local gas tax to fix potholes. Voter approval of a bond issue to improve or maintain a selected number of specific streets is almost as unlikely.”) it seems that Albanians are stuck between a short-sighted rock and a hard place.

    Regardless, the streets need fixing, so monies must be found. Or…Albanians can quit griping about the streets and simply drive on current roads until they turn to winter time mud and summer time dust. Then, Albanians will have exactly what they are willing to pay for – a throwback to the 1800s. Sounds about right for the local yokels.

  4. Anony Mouse says:

    My guess is the city council will opt to impose a pretty severe monthly road “fee” on water/sewer bills.

    1. No voters involved. Yes! Why ask for permission when a “fee” can be imposed unilaterally?

    2. People are sheep or apathetic, probably both. Most people don’t read their water/sewer bill. They just pay it.

    3. Councilors aren’t stupid and love exercising power. They know from experience that there is little to no political risk in forcing city residents to cough up more money.

    4. Gaslighting. The elites on the council and in city government can frame a “fee” as serving the greater good. Who would argue otherwise?

  5. RICH KELLUM says:

    Until there is a system to differentiate between those folks who paid for the street when they bought their house or lot, and those who purchased a lot where the street was made by the City, as it was done years ago, it will not be fair and probably not pass any election.
    Imagine you are the one who just bought a house in a development where the builder had to make the street and then you are charged a fee or tax so someone elses street can be repaved.

    • Anony Mouse says:

      As an ex-bureaucrat it is my duty to point out that the future Albany fee will probably treat the road “system” like a utility.

      Being a resident means you are a “system” user. Therefore “equity” demands that every user pay the imposed “fee”, regardless of when the road was built, who built it, or where the road is located.

      If the road is in the city, pay up my friend. It’s for the greater good.

      Heck, the first road fees in the U.S. were imposed in Oregon way back in the 1980s. Albany won’t have any problem plagiarizing an existing road “fee” plan, ordinance, and collection process. The examples in Oregon are numerous (ex: Oregon City, Newberg, et al).

  6. MarK says:

    The city should STOP wasting taxpayer dollars on their real estate failures and start money where it’s needed and the waterfront projects are NOT needed. The ROI on these frivolous (“pet”projects) expenditures is a negative.

  7. Mark S. says:

    Just out of curiosity how would they tax vehicles using Albany roads to get to and from or thru town?. Recently seen semi trucks using Marion st. as a thoroughfare I would not consider this as a artillery rd. But more of a side st. What are they ever going to do when there are more electric vehicles than gas vehicles on road?. They should eliminate all funds for downtown and use them for all the other roads in Albany

    • Cap B. says:

      Yes, funds for downtown should be halted immediately and the Mayor and the Council members should not be re-elected…none of them. The Monteith park project should be stopped, and the funds should be placed in escrow for road work. (Ray K.: Please do not reply that the CARA funds have to be used for the waterfront. Call the state office that governs urban renewal districts and ask how to suspend the project. I’ll bet it can be done. The project would have to be halted if a disaster should happen, such as an earthquake, so there is a way to stop it, I’m sure.)

  8. Bill Kapaun says:

    The mayors/City Council members from the last 40 years are responsible for this mess. The longer they’ve served, the more blame THEY should OWN UP TO. Installing promenades, back in parking and other money wasting projects while the streets were crumbling.

    Watch them blame the citizens for their own arrogance.

  9. P. Richner says:

    Or, roads and highways could be privately owned. See:

    https://mises.org/library/privatization-roads-and-highways

  10. Bill says:

    Odd how they never have trouble finding money for the homeless. But than when it comes to the roads and public safety they never have the money. Maybe they need to get their priorities straight.

  11. Dala Rouse says:

    I have heard that some counties share their timber money with cities in the county but don’t know if that is true anymore. Linn county gave the city money to do First and Second street at one time if I remember correctly. The county also gave the city money to improve the streets in the city owned by the county but the city didn’t use it that way. The county has great roads while cities don’t but log truck drive city streets too.

 

 
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