Mayor seeking $14 million for streets

As Spokane emerged from its snowiest winter in 15 years, the poor condition of many of the city’s streets became all too apparent with potholes, cracks and ruts showing up across the city.

The pothole problems in February led Mayor Mary Verner to ask her public works staff to come up with the cost of fully funding street maintenance in Spokane. They came up with $14 million, a number the mayor said she supports.

Now all she needs is to find the money. A local-option charge on annual vehicle licenses, a street utility charge and new parking-lot fees are among the ideas under consideration for raising money for additional street maintenance.

“I feel I have to address our local streets first,” the mayor said this month, explaining that dilapidated streets are becoming a deterrent for economic development.

The extra money would go for sealing cracks, patching bad sections of pavement or resurfacing larger segments where the damage runs curb to curb.

The $14 million would be on top of money now going toward complete street rehabilitations under a 10-year, $114 million bond issue approved by voters in 2004. Another street bond issue may be needed in 2014 to continue those major rehabilitations through 2024, officials have said.

Marlene Feist, the city’s public affairs officer, said the $14 million is “sort of the upper end” of the city’s street maintenance needs.

“You could settle for a number smaller than that. The idea is to create a regular schedule of maintenance on all of our streets,” she said.

Greater spending on street maintenance has some political support. Last month, the mayor and Spokane City Council agreed to pump $500,000 in emergency cash into additional repairs this year.

But that is not enough, the mayor said earlier this month. She told reporters that improved street maintenance is a priority for her administration.

Currently, the city spends about $20 million on street maintenance year-round, including $9.6 million from locally collected taxes. The balance comes largely from Spokane’s share of the state gas tax.

Gas tax money going to Washington cities has lagged for more than a decade as suburban areas incorporate into new cities while the state’s distribution formula for the gas tax has remained unchanged.

Verner said a local-option vehicle license fee of $20 a year is possible.

Councilman Al French said he hopes the Legislature will reconsider the idea of allowing cities to create street utilities, which would collect money to pay for maintenance.

“The only way to do it (improve maintenance) is with additional revenue,” French said.

Councilman Bob Apple has for several years proposed fees on downtown parking lots. That would likely put the burden on commuters and event-goers who would directly benefit from better street maintenance.

Verner said she rejects a recommendation by an outside consultant a few years ago to contract out work being done by a city paving crew. She said the crew has been making repairs at a lower cost than could be done through private contracts.

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