In Focus | Pay now, or pay even more later | Rich Elfers

I watched the April 24 Enumclaw City Council meeting with dismay when the topic of funding our streets came up for a vote. Since 2007 the city has paid consultants more than $27,000 to do evaluations of our streets. The findings were that the longer we wait to fix our streets, the more it will cost us.

  • by
  • Monday, April 30, 2012 7:34pm
  • Opinion

I watched the April 24 Enumclaw City Council meeting with dismay when the topic of funding our streets came up for a vote.  Since 2007 the city has paid consultants more than $27,000 to do evaluations of our streets. The findings were that the longer we wait to fix our streets, the more it will cost us.

Since 2007 our streets have degraded even further with minimal upkeep. No money was budgeted in 2012 to fix them.

Based upon the PowerPoint shared by Public Works Director Chris Searcy at the council meeting, the percentage of good-quality streets has diminished from 62.8 percent in 2007 to 28.8 percent in 2012. Additionally, our poor quality streets have increased from 7.6 percent in 2007 to 20.8 percent today. Five of the council have had to deal with this problem for 11 years. How long are we going to wait to fix our streets?

The council discussed the opportunity to take advantage of a .75 percent state interest rate public works loan for 15 years. The administration wanted to borrow $3 million to upgrade our streets.  If we were to finish construction within three years it would decrease to .25 percent interest; if we finished in four years it would cost us .50 percent interest.  There are currently no matching fund requirements. A loan like this does not come along very often. The issue that was the sticking point was that the council had to find a funding source for this loan.

Even one of our newest council members, Darrel Dickson, saw the financial advantages of such a loan. He’s a businessman who knows a deal when he sees it.

The council was offered three potential funding sources to pay back the public works loan over 15 years:

Use just 22 cents out of the 89 cents per $1,000 assessed value banked capacity gained from turning over the fire department to District 28. That’s about $60 per year for a home worth $250,000.

The other two options came from forming a Transportation Benefit District – an independent taxing district (like some cities have park districts) that has taxing authority to either:

  • raise car tab fees $20 without voter approval (probably politically suicidal); or
  • with voter approval increase the sales tax by up to .2 percent (about $30 on a $30,000 vehicle).

For some reason the council was unwilling to consider any of these options. Were they afraid of creating a debt?

Now the opportunity is gone for this year, creating even worse streets with higher costs in the future. Since the council declined to vote for it, they essentially gave up the opportunity to acquire a large infusion of dollars to jump-start a pavement management plan at historically low interest rates.

Streets are a core service. Just look at the streets in our town.  Some of them are an embarrassment. The council was elected to make difficult decisions.  It takes courage to act. When will we get our streets fixed? How long must we wait? The longer we wait the more it will cost us.

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