In response to strong citizen demand to fix Pendleton’s deteriorating streets and provide sustainable funding to keep the streets in good condition, the City Council has tentatively reached a solution to this difficult and expensive problem.
The Council has been studying street maintenance for two years, trying to understand the extent of the problem and determine how much money it will take to provide sustainable repairs. For decades, the City spent only its share of gas taxes on street repair. This was typically about $350,000 per year. Over the past five years, this amount has been gradually increased by using a street utility fee, marijuana tax receipts, new general fund dollars, and increased state gas tax money. In the current fiscal year, Pendleton will spend about $1.2 million on its streets. Engineering studies show, however, that the City really needs to spend $2.2 million each year for the coming decade if it expects to get its streets into a good condition that can be affordably sustained. So, the task has been to determine the best way to come up with an additional $1 million per year for street repairs.
The Council put together a list of hypothetical ideas on how to raise this revenue and made some 30 presentations to civic groups and citizens to get their reaction. The most popular ideas were to increase hotel taxes, begin a city gas tax, and charge a fee for large events. At the City Council work session on Tuesday, 26 November, the Council endorsed a way ahead by:
Asking voters to approve a 4 cent gas tax that would expire after ten years. This tax is estimated to raise approximately $440,000 per year and would be on the ballot in May of 2020.
The Council discussed a hotel room fee equivalent to $2.00 per night. This is estimated to raise about $306,000 per year.
The current street utility fee of $5.21 per month will increase by $3.00 per month, resulting in about $250,000 in new revenues annually. There will be a provision to exempt low-income families from paying this new fee.
The City will make cuts to its general fund in order to raise another $110,000 for street maintenance.
The idea of charging an event fee was endorsed, but there remain quite a few questions on how this fee will be administered and what events will be required to collect it. The Council will form a joint committee with the large event organizers to determine the best way to administer such a fee. The leaders of the Round-Up, Happy Canyon and the Music Fest have indicated their willingness to work with the City on this issue and once the questions can be answered, the goal will be to raise at least $95,000 a year from an event fee.
These new fees and taxes will need formal approval by the City Council, which is expected to vote to approve them on 3 December.
A precise date for implementing the new hotel fee and the increase in the street utility fee has not been set, but residents can expect to see these fees started in time to impact the 2020-2021 budget which begins on July 1st, 2020.