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City: Usage fee could offer a fix for crumbling roads

City considering options for road maintenance; consultant will create a 'pavement plan'

At the intersection of College and First streets, a persistent pothole defies all attempts at maintenance by city of Newberg crews. Every couple months it’s filled, but inevitably the pavement crumbles and opens up once again, threatening to devour the next vehicle to come by.

That intersection is hardly alone and Public Works Director Jay Harris said that in his four years on the job costs have increased as the city has tried to increase repairs on its aging road system. Before the city gets to a “point of no return” with street maintenance, the City Council has given Harris direction to look into a couple funding options to deal with crumbling roads.

In 2014, a report indicated the city would need $1.89 million per year to maintain the existing pavement condition index, a survey of the condition of city streets. Streets would remain in their present conditions without further degeneration, but would not be markedly improving.GARY ALLEN - Many drivers are aware of the need to fix Newberg's dilapidated pavement system, but the question is how to fund it. The city is looking into a street fee to help maintain current pavement conditions.

During the Jan. 19 council meeting, Harris presented the city’s options for establishing funding that would maintain the pavement conditions as they are, running down the list from a street fee to a local gas tax to a general obligation bond.

The state applies a 30-cent gas tax at the wholesale level, but many cities including Dundee also assess a local gas tax.

If Newberg were to apply a three-cent per gallon tax on fuel, roughly $90,000 would be generated each year. Voter approval would be required for levying a gas tax, though.

A general obligation bond or local option levy would raise significantly more but would, naturally, be the burden of property owners only.

None of the options would raise the roughly $2 million alone, so Harris recommended the council choose a couple different strategies that in combination could generate a significant portion of the required funds.

Out of that discussion, councilors asked Harris to look particularly into the street utility fee and street lighting fee.

The street utility fee would be a monthly charge included with utility bills and could either appear as a flat rate per residence or could be based on trip generation.

Harris noted that a usage fee based on trip generation is an equitable way to go, as higher users are paying for their impact on the system.

A street lighting fee would be assessed similarly, but would work a bit differently. Street light operation and maintenance are funded through state gas tax revenues and total about $300,000 each year locally. The street lighting fee would apply its revenues toward street light costs, freeing up the gas tax revenues to go toward street maintenance.

These two options were favored due to the amount they would generate, who would pay (road users would pay both favored fees) as well as how quickly they could be introduced.

“The thing to do is get a plan put forth, look at the initial funding and start getting some money out on the roadways now, and get preservation underway to keep us from slipping further while we’re looking into other funding options and involving the community,” Harris said.

Neither the street lighting or street utility fees would require voter approval, but councilors stressed during the January meeting that communication and input from the public will be vital in determining the best way to go.

The city plans to hold open houses, town halls and other forms of outreach while deciding how to proceed.

“There will be a significant number of meetings before we get there,” Harris said.

The first step is to bring a consultant in to help with creating the master plan, which will be the first of its kind for Newberg. The city’s transportation system plan deals with roads, but only with new projects such as street widening and new street construction. A maintenance master plan to guide street preservation is a new idea.