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Reasonable fees needed to fix roads

The city of West Linn is doing the right thing by not ignoring its decaying streets.

Deferred maintenance on infrastructure is plaguing cities across the Unites States, from Portland to St. Paul, Minn. And we all know what the extreme side of these consequences can be.

West Linn is just as bad. City roadways have been ignored for more than 10 years. And according to a recent report by an outside consultant, it will cost West Linn $16 million to bring its streets to an acceptable condition. It's long overdue maintenance that has reduced the streets' ratings - or pavement condition index - from about 80 in 1993 to a 68 today.

It's extremely unlikely that West Linn's sub-par streets will lead to a catastrophe as large as St. Paul's bridge collapse. But city officials would be sacrificing the safety of its citizens by ignoring the roadways they use every single day to conduct business, haul kids to and from school, etc. And it's also very evident that the citizens of West Linn expect more than to drive on roads falling apart under their tires. After all, one of the most basic charges of a local government is to secure a safe and sufficient infrastructure in which its citizens can rely. And more practically, the bill to repair the streets is one that will continue to snowball the longer its swept under the carpet.

Much like Portland, West Linn has chosen to combat this infrastructure problem by charging households and businesses fees to help fix the roads. This was made necessary when the police levy failed three times, forcing the city to divert funds to maintain a proper police force.

This has been a very contentious issue among a vocal group of West Linn citizens. New fees are never popular with citizens. But West Linn isn't alone. Nineteen Oregon cities - including Lake Oswego, Tigard, Wilsonville and Tualatin - already have adopted similar methods of raising money for transportation. And West Linn is on the right track, especially after its Monday council meeting in which it made several adjustments to its previous approach to the fee system.

The council has decided on a $4.40 per month fee for households and a charge that would not exceed $440 per month for businesses. Initially, the most debated aspect of the street repair problem related to business owners. The council originally proposed a fee much higher for businesses.

We felt this was a mistake.

Local businesses are the backbone of any small town. And even under the current system, the city should be very diligent when applying the fees. Without major corporations or industry in West Linn, it must rely on small businesses for much of its commerce. And many small operations, for example the quaint boutiques in Bolton's Central Village or coffee shops in Willamette, with rising overhead and rent, cannot afford such an extra expenditure.

The proposal during Monday's meeting, which was met with little resistance for good reason, fixes that problem while addressing a major one.

The maintenance bill will also incorporate the state gas tax and a levy, which Mayor Norm King plans to put on the May ballot.

These factors make West Linn's efforts to fix its streets a no brainer.