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HASSO HERING

A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Fuel tax defeat: Council out of touch

Written May 15th, 2018 by Hasso Hering

Monday afternoon outside the Albany Post Office: The unusual and often ignored back-in parking requirement may be one example of the council and people wanting different things.

The crushing rejection of Albany’s local fuel tax Tuesday may be just the latest example of the majority of council members and a majority of their constituents not being on the same page.

The defeat of the 5-cent-a-gallon local fuel tax to repair streets was to be expected. Who wants to pay even more when gas is already going up pretty fast and the state fuel tax is already set to rise in steps over the next few years? But two-to-one against in North Albany, and 70 percent against in the Linn County part of the city? It wasn’t even a contest.

A majority of the council put the tax on the ballot. But if they hoped the thing would pass, they clearly had no idea of what the voting citizens in town are willing to accept.

On Monday I took yet another snapshot of somebody unwilling or unable to park by backing in on the left side of Second Avenue outside the post office. That parking scheme, adopted by the urban renewal board including the council at one meeting without any public input at all, also was a case of being out of touch. The council accepted the staff’s opinions that there were certain theoretical safety advantages to this arrangement. It was evidently unaware that many of their long-time constituents are no longer able to crane their neck back as far as they could in their 20s. And the council has steadfastly ignored negative public reaction for more than a year.

While the gas tax election was pending, the council and other members decided to spend an additional $444,000 in order to do a complete reconstruction of seven blocks on two downtown streets. This is part of the roughly $9 million downtown streetscape project that’s been going on for two years. If voters paid attention, they might have scratched their heads. Those blocks were already scheduled to be repaved. Why spend hundreds of thousands more on a super job for seven blocks when all over town, many streets are in truly terrible shape because there’s no money to fix them?

The fuel tax election also was on the horizon when the city installed a series of expensive but completely unnecessary “catenary” lights to swing above those prettified streets downtown. Not only did those swinging lights add to the tax-paid cost of the streetscape project, but they shed no added light on the already newly and brilliantly lighted streets. (And some of us think they’re ugly too.)

The city of Albany does have a real problem coming up with the money to pay for decent streets. But if voters are ever expected to approve additional revenue, the council first has to establish a long and consistent record of not spending money on stuff that most people don’t think is necessary or wise. (hh)



30 responses to “Fuel tax defeat: Council out of touch”

  1. Jane Bason says:

    Well said

  2. Constant observer says:

    You’re singing my song!

  3. J. Jacobson says:

    Canternary Lights
    Brighten
    Canternary Nights
    Stopping
    Canterary Fights
    Illuminating
    Canternary Mites

  4. Peg says:

    I should think that keeping streets and other infrastructure in reasonable repair would be a top priority for the Albany city council. Instead, we get “beautification,” “invasive cameras,” “bike paths for the six people or fewer who use them,” and other such items which are of little urgency. Apologies to Hasso re bike paths!

  5. Debbie says:

    So well said!
    Thanks for expressing community thoughts- these are mine for certain!

  6. KJ Ullfers says:

    So next? A street “fee” that will tell all landowners to pay the same amount? Since it’s a fee not a tax it will not require an approval by voters.

    • Linda P says:

      My first thought was they will find a way to fund it just like they did the Police station and Fire station that was voted down.

  7. Richard Vannice says:

    No surprise. Politicians, regardless of the level of office they hold, refuse to listen to the voter and do what only what they want/like. Even if the vote had been 100% NO they would still blame someone else.

  8. tom cordier says:

    The underlying problem is the form of government Albany uses. We have an unpaid Council/Mayor hiring a City Manager.Council members are not allowed to direct the staff. So the Staff makes recommendations (like Hasso states ) which the Manager is forced to bring to the Council. Now it is up to the Council to reject any Staff recommendation. Not wanting to be the bad guy-Council says ok.
    The highly engaged, paid County Commissioners engage their staff directly and stop the nonsense early. Albany should adopt that from
    of governance via a change to the Charter

  9. Lisa says:

    To the parking, people will have to “crane their neck” to get out. I back in park whenever I can. But think about it, you’re going to have back up one way or the other.
    As to the council, people need to get out and vote if they aren’t happy about what they’re doing!
    Btw, I always love reading your articles

    • Julie Barnhart says:

      That was my thought on the parking. Backing up is part of everyday driving and turning your head to look back is also. Blind spots don’t check themselves!

      • Shawn says:

        I have thought about this. The consensus on this blog and of those I talk to others in real life, is that angled back in parking is more difficult than angled front end parking. Why the city stubbornly refuses to accept this fact says much about the attitude of the council.

        To back in at an angle, one must not only turn the head, but also get the angle correct at the same time. This is difficult for a few reasons : many vehicles (coupes and sedans) have blind spots toward the rear of the car making it difficult to guage the distance from other vehicles. Additionally some folks have physical limitations which makes it difficult to crane their necks around. When parking at an angle head in, one can see the cars and align the vehicle with no blind spots, while looking ahead. Thus getting the angle corrrect is easier.

        When backing out, the car is already angled properly (whether head in or back in) and one just needs to keep the wheels straight until clear of the cars by the side.

        This may be akin to parallel parking. While I can parallel park my vehicle just fine, I accept that others have a more difficult time with it. Making the the statement that I find it easy, therefore there is not a problem, doesn’t take into account the various skill levels and physical abilities of all the drivers on the road

        -Shawn

  10. Tony White says:

    The Council asked us to vote for a proposal that would have been a windfall for Corvallis and Millersburg fuel stations. What a joke.

  11. Ron Dansyear says:

    Please remember this at election time

  12. Doug Klinkebiel says:

    You’re speaking for many, Hasso. Myself included. I live downtown. It was defeated by a 5-2 margin. That’s more than out of touch. But is anyone really all that surprised the council came up with this? They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

    That goes for re-electing the same politicians as well.

  13. Sarah says:

    Approving this would have been a horrible economic move for Albany. So many of us go out of Albany for work each day, we would just not buy fuel here. Granted $.05 per gal does not change your cost that much just 1 dollar per 20 gallons. If the beautification funds had been used to make necessary improvments maybe people would have gone for it.

  14. Louis Thelen says:

    Well said, Hasso. And I am also glad the gas tax went down to defeat. My issue was that Albany is where many of us who live outside the city go to fill our tanks. We had no voice in the issue other than to go elsewhere.

    As far as post offices, I never stopped at the Albany office anyway. Even before we moved to Shedd, we would drive here for lunch at the (now closed) cafe and to mail packages. There’s almost never a line and, if there is, it’s one of our neighbors.

    • Doug Klinkebiel says:

      Grew up in Shedd, Louis, and my parents owned that cafe for awhile in the 70’s. And our PO Box was 67! lol! Hope you like it there. I sure did.

  15. Larry Holverson says:

    Good job Hasso!!

  16. Avid Reader says:

    Your last paragraph which sums up the council insisting on beautification over needed projects should be printed out and pasted on the foreheads of the mayor and every council person. They mayor will just say we are all negative and don’t understand city business.. She needs to be sent packing the next time she runs for office.

    I’m so glad the gas tax failed. And, if they put a large utility fee for streets on us, they will all go down the next time they run for re-election. We are all taxed to death as is, considering property taxes, federal and state income taxes, sewer and water and stormwater fees, etc.

  17. Robin says:

    Albany city government loves to spend money on pet projects, but fails to bring in industry to generate additional revenue. Instead they add more developments without the infrastructures to support them. Then they tax property owners to death. Pull it together Albany. He who can be trusted with little will be trusted with much. Lead proactively and bravely not reactively.

  18. centrist says:

    So, the few people who voted in this sleeper election have spoken. The remaining 60%+ did not. Can’t say the result reflects the real opinion.
    So, folks want the roads repaired, but don’t want to pay for it. The City wants the roads repaired, but can’t pay for it. Not a winning situation (except tp those who enjoy carping about the gummint)

    • Taxpayer2 says:

      It could very well be that “the few people who voted in this sleeper election” are weary of being the cash cow for their gummint’s frivolous spending habits. Maybe the few people who voted in this sleeper election, are tired of buying $200 trees and giving “grant” money to private businesses for their personal profit. Maybe the few people who voted in this sleeper election don’t live downtown or own businesses downtown and resent the extravagant spending downtown while being told the gummint can’t afford to fix the streets anywhere else. Maybe the few people who voted in this sleeper election are the few who realize this gummint’s insatiable appetite for tax revenue is just bigger than our earnings can accommodate. Or, maybe we’re the few who are paying attention to this gummint’s shady deals and expensive taste.
      More taxes? Silly gummint, the average Albany resident can’t afford it.

  19. Clem Reding says:

    Well done HH

  20. hj.anony1 says:

    Wait a second HH. Back on 4/13/16, you wrote an article titled: How about a gas tax?

    You seemed all for it then. Now against? …. after the populis* has spoken?
    * echo centrist’s comment

    You wrote: “Editorial comment: Considering the suspension-testing holes in some Albany streets, I agree that it would be wise to pay for getting them repaved before they all turn to gravel. And considering the wild swings in the price of fuel in recent years, I would not notice if filling my car cost me 30 or 40 cents more. (hh)”

    It’s a bit of fun to go back and re-read some of your postings and all the comments from past years. I wasted a good hour tonight doing just that.

  21. Councilman Ray Kopczynski sent this response via email on Thursday:

    “Who wants to pay even more when gas is already going up pretty fast and the state fuel tax is already set to rise in steps over the next few years?”
    None of the state increase will amount to a very material base for improvements locally. Not that it would have made any difference, I’ve stated before, we didn’t have the political will to ask the voters several years ago when gas was closer to $2 a gallon (forget that it got to $4). Why have out-of-town folks help pay for road infrastructure?

    “On Monday I took yet another snapshot of somebody unwilling or unable to park by backing in on the left side of Second Avenue outside the post office.”
    Thank you for the regular stream of photos showing some folks very intentionally breaking the law by driving the wrong way on a well signed/marked one way street! I get that some folks are too lazy to follow basic instructions. Must be a case of obtuse civil disobedience I guess… They park the wrong way, run into the P.O., do their business, and then come back out… Ooops! Cars are now coming the right way down the street, so now, they’re forced wait, back out, continue driving the wrong way to the corner, or, do a U-turn. I also took some pictures this morning (attached). So, unless this guy drove completely around the block and did a hard-left oblique turn, he had to drive up the street illegally most of its length to park where he did. And then, he did a reverse oblique back-out, and turned around to go the legal way. That is more dangerous than simply backing in. Which, by the way, both your picture and mine also show folks doing. If they’re there and see the area mostly empty, it would take them *minimal* time to practice backing in. I guess these same folks are also “unwilling or unable to” parallel park…

    “That parking scheme, adopted by the urban renewal board including the council at one meeting without any public input at all…”
    Whoa! The decision was not a “one & done” process by any means! We (council) had several meetings in its run-up due to the kerfuffle from folks upset about their perceived lack of parking for the Carousel – because the Carousel was more successful than many had imagined it would be. It was shown and planned over those public meetings, that to improve said parking with a large number of added spaces, traffic flow could/would be improved by going to one-way in front of the Carousel and around the P.O. As I recall, along with the back-in parking, the “direction” of the one-way was also brought up. I do not remember any major angst displayed at any of the public meetings (by council or anyone else) by having the back-in parking specifically.
    The public has *ample* opportunity to get involved getting their fingernails dirty by being in the arena. They always have and always will. I find it hard to blame all the volunteers who do so when members of the public choose not to read materials very publicly available beforehand, or contact their representatives, or show up at public hearings…

    “And the council has steadfastly ignored negative public reaction for more than a year.”

    Not being involved with “social media” and its ilk (Facebook et al), I’ll take your word for it for those venues. And even though I do know a few of the anonymous bloggers on your site, I tend to give them short shrift for being unwilling to state their case — and putting their name behind it. While I do disagree with several, I’ve always felt that folks lose a huge amount of credibility by not standing up for what they believe IMO.

    “Those blocks were already scheduled to be repaved. Why spend hundreds of thousands more on a super job for seven blocks when all over town, many streets are in truly terrible shape because there’s no money to fix them?”
    Simply because (as you say) the roads were already going to be repaved. Adding that extra reconstruction will extend the life of them much longer and much less expensively than having to tear up the same road further down the time line.

    “…the city installed a series of expensive but completely unnecessary ‘catenary’ lights to swing above those prettified streets downtown. Not only did those swinging lights add to the tax-paid cost of the streetscape project, but they shed no added light on the already newly and brilliantly lighted streets. (And some of us think they’re ugly too.)”
    Total red herring, but it’s your P.O.V. Many other folks have also commented the lights very much enhance the look of downtown.

    “The city of Albany does have a real problem coming up with the money to pay for decent streets.”
    Thank you! So what’s the solution? None of them will totally fix the problem and all of them have downsides. It will take a combination to get it done.

    “…the council first has to establish a long and consistent record of not spending money on stuff that most people don’t think is necessary or wise….
    Yup – Kicking the can down the road again always solves problems. The problem is not 100% intractable, but it does require political will by the City Council. We haven’t shown it in the past, maybe now?

    • hj.anony1 says:

      RICH! And I am not talking Kellum.

      This will take some time to digest. What fun!!

      Too busy now getting ready for the gardening. I’ll be back soon to read and take many notes. What a gift tonight! Thank you for what you do HH !

  22. Rich Kellum says:

    Two of us didn’t vote for it to begin with, Frustrating because we made a deal among the council not to bad mouth things that the council passes even if we did not vote that way.

  23. Mike Patrick says:

    If you want to get an idea of who the city council is either watch them on local access TV channel or go and join them during their meetings. I enjoy watching on tv. It’s like going to the circus. You have one or two that dominate the sessions, you really can see the division among them.

    Also, they also mention “the staff”. Who is the staff and what makes them qualified to advise the council that seems to go along with them regularly?

  24. Ray Kopczynski says:

    “Who is the staff and what makes them qualified to advise the council…”

    They are the very professional city employees tasked to run and work in the specific departments listed in all the documents we request and receive for all of the meetings we attend. It is how the city functions.

    As to the “division” you mention… Would you really want to see 100% lock-step agreement all the time?

 

 
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