A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

How about a local gas tax?

Written April 13th, 2016 by Hasso Hering
The closer you look, the more this part of East Fifth Avenue looks like a canyon.

The closer you look, the more this part of East Fifth Avenue looks like a canyon.

The pavement on many of Albany’s older residential streets has been in pretty poor shape for years and isn’t getting any better. Mayor Sharon Konopa thinks that a local gas tax would enable the city to make progress on that front.

She brought up the subject Monday when the city council was reviewing changes in its “strategic plan.” The plan mentions street maintenance, and the mayor wants it to include the possibility of new revenue to pay for more of it.

“I have seen our streets in such disrepair and street funding diminish over the years with little street reconstruction and no preservation,” she wrote in an email when I invited her to elaborate. “We don’t even do slurry seals any more. I would rather avoid a street utility fee and have a gas tax instead.”

Konopa talked about a regional approach to a local gas tax with Corvallis Mayor Biff Traber last year. Traber confirmed this when I talked to him Tuesday. He said a task force of the Corvallis council has been considering a gas tax as one of the ways of meeting his city’s unmet needs in regard to streets. The idea is that Albany and Corvallis voters would be asked to approve a gas tax at the same time, but Traber says that while there’s definite interest in the idea on the task force, the timing remains uncertain.

In her email, Konopa wrote she wanted to go out for a local gas tax last November but Corvallis wasn’t ready. “I do hope we can go out to the voters this November, but not unless Corvallis is at the same time.”

The Albany council, the mayor says, is not up to speed on the topic and that’s why she wants it in the strategic plan.” “Get it in the plan and when the opportunity arises we can proceed… I would like the first five years to have a plan on what projects would take place so the voters would know where the dollars are going.”

There’s been no mention of a specific tax rate. Most of the 14 Oregon cities with a local fuel tax get 3 cents a gallon. Woodburn gets a penny and Eugene a nickel. Multnomah County charges 3 cents, and Portland voters will decide on a four-year 10-cent city gas tax in the May 17 primary. Washington County, the only other county with a gas tax, charges 1 cent. (The Albany and Corvallis mayors approached their respective counties, they told me, but neither Linn nor Benton was interested.)

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)

16 responses to “How about a local gas tax?”

  1. Jim Clausen says:

    How about taking some CARA money and improving the streets with that instead?

    Then again Kanopa and her minions on the city council have never seen a tax they didn’t like…

    • Bob Woods says:

      Because that would be stupid. CARA money should be dedicated towards improvements that benefit private property that will result in an increased assess value to generate the additional tax revenue to repay the CARA Bonds.

      Just generally throwing CARA money at citywide streets needs in general revenue doesn’t raise assessed valuations.

      • Gordon L. Shadle says:

        Bob is right. Using the proceeds from CARA debt on street repairs is rather stupid given the tax increment is zero.

        And that means CARA’s recent decision to budget $7,879,000 for “streetscape” improvements is equally stupid.

        You do agree, don’t you Bob?

        • Bob Woods says:

          Wrong, Mr. Purveyor of inadequate thinking. Those streetscape improvements directly benefit the target businesses, and work to increase the value of their properties.

      • Jim Clausen says:

        Actually Bob… good streets add to the value of the properties they serve. It’s just that it’s a less quantitative improvement – unless your dodging pot holes while making glass deliveries…

      • rich Kellum says:

        Bob, Most of the money left in CARA is for non private uses and does not make a tax increment.

        • Bob Woods says:

          Rich if my property becomes more valuable because of public improvements next to my property, the assessed value goes up. Is that a sure thing? No. The market has a big hand in the equation.

          The value is in the eye of the consumer. But one thing is for sure: If nothing changes from the status quo, no increase happens. If the status quo improves from the existing condition, then value increases

          You want to take NO Risk. In my experience, that guarantees failure. There was a poster from my days in college that said: ” Behold the turtle. He only makes progress when he sticks his head out.”

          You may be afraid to be a Turtle. I aspire to be an Eagle, head out and proud.

  2. Bill Kapaun says:

    Yet the Mayor/City Council have no qualms about tearing up decent streets and sidewalks in the inner city and replacing with “promenades”.

    Sometimes you just want to smack someone on the side of the head.

  3. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Like others who comment on your blog, I have no skin in this game. I no longer buy my motor vehicle gas in Albany.

    But Albany residents should be thankful that ORS 319.950 requires the city to submit this tax to the electors for approval. Otherwise this council would have unilaterally imposed the tax. This council hates having to get voter approval for anything.

    Also, will Albany have ODOT be the collection/disbursement agent? Will voters be told how much money ODOT will skim?

    Finally, will the council sell this tax to voters as ‘temporary’? No one should fall for that lie.

  4. Jim Engel says:

    It’s my experience that the worst streets are smack dab in the CARA district. So use CARA money to fix’em!..JE

  5. Shawn Dawson says:

    I could support a 3 cent gas tax if the details were right.

    * Overhead costs to collect the gas tax must not exceed 10%
    * The tax must be kept local — if it’s an Albany tax, then it is for Albany streets. If a Linn County Tax — then for Linn County roads, etc.
    * The funds must be used solely for street repairs — not unnecessary things such as bulb-outs, or other decorative features of dubious efficacy and utility.
    * Openness and accountability in how much money is collected and on which projects it is spent.

    I do have concerns about how this may impact local businesses. Folks who travel to Salem regularly, will fill up there if it’s cheaper. It could impact local business sales.

    I also have long term concerns on how this may be complicated by the mileage-tax which Oregon is experimenting with.

  6. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Here is an alternative – don’t let CARA siphon about $1,000,000 per year from the city’s general fund. Instead, put that money in a dedicated street fund. Do it now. It won’t take long before the fund accumulates, perhaps enough to do the slurry sealing the Mayor whined about.

    I’m not holding my breath, though, that this council will do anything that threatens their favorite slush fund.

    • Gordon L. Shadle says:

      Of course CARA would first have to pay off their huge deb before any money would become available. So, pay the current debt, no new urban renewal debt, then dedicate the $1M windfall in the general fund to streets.

      Chances of this happening? Zero, given the current makeup of the council. They’d rather keep their slush fund and hang a gas tax around the necks of everyone. Typical politics.

  7. hj.anony1 says:

    30 or 40 cents more per fill up might be easily swallowed now.
    However, when (not if) Wall Street decides oil needs to head back
    to 100 per bl and gas above 4 per gallon, this so called ‘temporary’
    tax won’t go down as nicely.

    That “when” could take some time. Maybe we’ll all be driving hydrogen
    cars by then. Doubt it though.

  8. hj.anony1 says:

    Agreed, You know people though. No other molehill is made into mountain easier
    than taxes. Just look to the comments section here. It’s a perception vs. reality concern.


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