Spokane’s crumbling roads may be a major selling point for higher gas taxes or user fees that pay for smoother streets.
But city and county officials wonder if residents are in a buying mood.
“This is the year to sell it since we have such bad roads,” said County Commissioner John Roskelley.
Councilman Mike Brewer isn’t sure the potholes are big enough to loosen voters’ grips on their wallets. “I don’t think it would go if you throw it to voters,” he said.
Commissioners and City Council members sat down Thursday afternoon to chat about three common areas of interest.
Discussions about a joint city-county domestic violence program and plans to expand the sewer system lumbered along, with a few officials fighting yawns in the stuffy board room of the Spokane Arena.
The pace picked up when talk turned to repairing streets - particularly those inside city limits.
“I live on one of the worst county roads,” said Roskelley. “But I don’t feel like ours are breaking up as bad as the city’s.”
The state Legislature is considering tax increases to pay for road repairs and other transportation projects.
One proposal would bump gas taxes statewide by 7 cents per gallon, with city and county governments each getting one-half cent per gallon for sales within their areas. City and county officials also could impose an added 1-cent-per-gallon tax without voter approval.
Commissioner Kate McCaslin wasn’t impressed with the plan. “Yeah. Big deal,” she said. “Thanks so much.”
The two proposals combined would net the city and county about $3 million a year each. That’s about half the additional $6 million city officials say they need to keep the roads in good shape.
That doesn’t include the nearly $35 million they need to rebuild roads that have been neglected for years, said Mayor Jack Geraghty.
The county needs an additional $10 million a year to pave gravel roads and repair aging arterials, county officials said.
City officials also are considering asking for a $15-a-year vehicle license fee the county could impose without voter approval, but at least one commissioner quickly voiced her disdain for the idea.
“I will not vote to implement any tax without a vote of citizens,” McCaslin said. “As long as it goes to a vote, people consider that fair.”
City officials are considering issuing council-approved bonds to pay for some street repairs once they have a permanent source of money secured.
They aren’t doing anything until they hear from the Legislature, Geraghty said, adding county and city officials will get together again in two months to discuss their options.
County resident Steve Lybbert hopes area leaders don’t wait too long.
“I can’t afford to fix the front-end alignment all the time, not to mention the tires,” said the millworker as he shoved a nozzle into the gas tank of his Pontiac Firebird at a North Side gas station Thursday. “It’s cheaper to pay the extra tax than repair my car all the time.”
At a South Hill station, Jerry Dean filled his tank at $1.22-a-gallon and said he thinks he’s paying far too much for gas already.
“The gas is too high as it is,” said Dean, who works two jobs to support his wife and four children. “I can’t take any more taxes.
“I’m taxed out.”