Cure for Springfield’s (Oregon) ailing streets could include a property tax increase

By Elon Glucklich, The Register-Guard

Nov. 22, 2015

SPRINGFIELD — A $30 million-and-growing street repair backlog has city public works officials weighing property tax increases as a possible fix.

Those tax increases could range from 21 cents to 50 cents or more per $1,000 of a home’s assessed value. A property owner with a home assessed at $150,000 would pay an extra $31.50 in property taxes per year under a 21-cents/$1,000 bond, and $75 a year on a 50-cents/$1,000 bond.

The figures are included in a Nov. 18 memo from Development and Public Works Director Anette Spickard to City Manager Gino Grimaldi, discussing the city’s deteriorating streets.

Springfield officials caution that the figures are estimates, meant to spark discussion and give city councilors a sense of the problem.

“Our street conditions continue to deteriorate and our street repair backlog continues to grow as a result of not having an active pavement preservation and repair program for the last eight years,” Spickard’s memo says.

The City Council would have to vote to place a property tax increase on an election ballot next year. No such vote is expected when the council meets Monday, city spokesman Niel Laudati said.

The discussion comes as Development and Public Works staff prepare to release a street condition report to the City Council on Monday evening.

The report lists 51 percent of Springfield streets as being in poor condition. Just 20 percent of the city streets are in good condition, the report says.

Portions of Marcola Road, Thurston Road and Centennial Boulevard each need $1 million or more in new asphalt work, the report states, while sections of 12 other streets each need $500,000 or more in repairs.

The backlog “has grown consistently,” city operations division manager Brian Conlon said. “Back in about 2005, the backlog was somewhere in area of $4 million. Over 10 years we’ve seen it grow by $25 million.”

Until 2007, the city could rely on about $1 million each year from Lane County government for pavement preservation — federal money the county received as compensation for declining sales of timber from federal forests.

The county eliminated that transfer after the federal government reduced its payments to the county. The city’s gas-tax revenue — from the state’s gas tax and city’s 3-cents-per-gallon gas tax, totals about $5 million a year and has stayed flat, despite population growth, as cars have become more fuel efficient, Conlon said. That money goes on emergency repairs.

The result is a fixed budget for repairs on a growing number of streets, with more problem spots popping up each year.

Funding “has simply not kept pace with that need,” Conlon said. “As the infrastructure ages, it costs more to maintain. So unless there’s a way to deal with that, it puts us in that backwards spiral” of increasing costs.

Spickard’s memo outlines five options for councilors to consider.

One would do nothing until the city can apply for a new round of federal transportation money in 2019. “Overall conditions will continue to deteriorate” under that plan, according to the memo.

Three options would have councilors vote next year to put a property tax bond on a future election ballot.

The largest — a 50 cents per $1,000 bond — would allow the city to borrow $30 million, to be paid off over 20 years. Another proposal would raise $8 million through a 23 cents per $1,000 bond, to be paid off over 10 years. Another would raise $15 million, through a 21 cents per $1,000 bond, to be paid off over 20 years.

A fifth option would borrow $50 million to $100 million both for street repairs and projects such as a new library. The memo does not estimate the tax impact of that proposal.

Past city efforts to raise money for street fixes have fallen flat. Springfield voters rejected a two-cent gas tax increase in 2009, a year after the council rejected a street preservation fee recommended by a city street task force.

The council discussed but decided not to impose a transportation fee in 2013.

The council last year came out in support of a proposed Lane County vehicle fee, which voters shot down in May.

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