Fee to collect $1.2 million per year to maintain and improve city's streets

After being stalled for nearly four months, a city staff-proposed measure to collect a monthly street maintenance fee from property owners gained decisive approval from the Newberg City Council last week.GRAPHIC FILE PHOTO - The Newberg City Council recently approved formation of a transportation utility fee, proceeds from which will go toward fixing the city's aging streets.

The transportation utility fee (TUF) will collect about $1.2 million per year, boosting the city's annual budget to roughly $1.8 million for maintaining decent roads and replcing those that have failed.

Many of the city councilors said they grappled with the additional cost the fee will place on property owners, especially larger businesses, but concluded that the problem cannot be put off any longer.

"I know that people will struggle and it's a huge burden on our businesses and our employers, but … we can't not do anything. It's come to the point where we have to make the hard decision," said Councilor Denise Bacon.

The fee, also known as the street fee, first came before the council in December and was tabled in January until last week, when the council approved the measure on a 6-1 vote, with Councilor Scott Essin casting the lone nay vote.

The fee will assess residences a flat fee on their municipal services statements, $4.99 per month for a single-family home, while fees for businesses and government properties will vary based generally on estimates of how much of a burden they place on the roads.

Residents will bear about 35 percent of the $1.2 million collected through this fee, while other businesses, organizations and public agencies will cover the other 65 percent.

While the plan is largely the same from what was proposed in January, the ad hoc committee that put together the street fee plan made several changes, most notably nixing a previously proposed $600 fee cap and extending just one exception: a 50 percent discount to the Newberg School District to just under $24,000 annually.

Jay Harris, the city's public works director, explained that the ad hoc committee that drafted the plan for the fee weighed reducing it for public agencies funded through local property taxes, and while reduction on other agencies was minimal, they found the discount had a major impact for the school district.

This was a sticking point for Essin, who questioned why the school district should get special treatment.

"If nobody else is getting a cut, then I'm not really certain why the school district is," he said.

Under the plan, a minimum of 30 percent of the funds collected under the fee must be spent on the worst roads while the rest would go toward keeping the newer roads in good condition. Harris noted that the city's funding model triages the maintenance of good and fair roads over the roads that have already failed, but he said the city would eventually divert more money to the poor roads.

"It took us a long time to get into this hole, and it's going to take us some time to get out of it. But at year five, out of 65.5 miles, we're touching 48 of them, which is good," he said, noting that they plan to touch every road in 10 years.

However, that plan depends on full funding of $2.5 million per year, while the street fee only boosts road spending to $1.8 million annually.

Officials had initially planned to collect the other $700,000 from a gas tax, but they backed away from that plan after numerous gas taxes failed in recent elections throughout the state.

Councilor Stephen McKinney expressed his approval for the fee, but said he would have preferred that it collected $1.5 million or more, noting that the cost to residents is less than they would annually pay for car maintenance in a year.

"It's a good deal for me because I'll be paying less in the long run to be driving on good roads rather than poor roads," he said. "TUF is a nice finger in the dike, perhaps, but it still doesn't take care of the road problem that we've got here, but I'm grateful for something."

The fee could be enacted as early as July 1, but it's unclear exactly when city officials plan for it to go into effect.

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