Council debates use of tab tax
Six months from the introduction of a new tax on vehicles, city leaders are starting to debate how the money will be spent.
Spokane will begin collecting $20 tab fees on vehicles registered in Spokane around Sept. 1. The city expects to collect about $800,000 this year and about $2.6 million annually after that.
Public Works Director Dave Mandyke said the new tax revenue will be used to improve transportation infrastructure and existing money for streets won’t be shifted to other areas.
When it approved the tax last month, the City Council mandated that 90 percent of the money be used for street maintenance projects on its six-year street plan and 10 percent on sidewalks, but specific projects weren’t chosen. As the tax was debated last year, some leaders worried that if it was approved, existing street money would be shifted to plug budget shortfalls.
The city’s 2011 street maintenance list includes 20 projects estimated to cost of $2.3 million. A dozen of the streets will be repaved. The other eight projects are for sealing cracks along surfaces. The plan was created before the city had approved the new tax and before the city cut street maintenance jobs from 67 to 61 because of budget cuts.
City Councilman Steve Corker said he would consider using the tax money to be used to hire street maintenance staff. Last year, Corker argued against the tab tax in part because the union that represents street employees did not agree to contract concessions that had been demanded by Mayor Mary Verner.
“We have to move on,” Corker said this week.
City Council President Joe Shogan said he also is open to using the money to hire city street maintenance workers.
“Obviously, the asphalt won’t spread itself,” Shogan said.
Shogan said he expects decisions about spending the new tab fee to be made by the citizens’ advisory committee created when the council approved the tax. The committee has not yet been appointed.
City officials say they are working on suggestions to the committee for possible repaving and sidewalk projects to fund. Those projects could be ones one scheduled for later years or currently listed as unfunded.
Unlike city road projects paid for by the property tax approved by voters in 2004, the city’s street maintenance work is completed by city workers. The 2004 street bond projects completely replace pavement while maintenance often is limited to grinding down the top and putting down a new surface.
The council last year created a Transportation Benefit District, which gave them the authority to create the tax.
Under state law, over tab taxes, the council has complete authority over how the tab tax money is spent. Verner has no veto power over how the tax is spent.
Assistant City Attorney Mike Piccolo said the council, acting as the overseer of the Transportation Benefit District, could contract with the city’s street maintenance department or with private contractors to do the work. If it chooses the city’s department, administrators could use the money to hire workers to complete the projects.
Mandyke said it likely would be cheaper for the city to do the extra maintenance work since it has the experience and equipment to do the work.
In the meantime, the loss of six workers in the department will mean some maintenance, such as pothole filling, leaf pickup, line painting and street sweeping, will be slower than usual, Mandyke said.
“Everything that we do will take longer, how much longer, I couldn’t tell you,” Mandyke said.
Because of early snowfall the city did not pickup leaves from city streets last year. Officials said as cold weather ends the city will better understand the damage caused to the roads over the winter and will formulate priorities, including leaf pickup.
Mandyke said it’s not yet clear when leaf pickup will start. Though one thing is certain: “If it snows tomorrow, it will be later than if it doesn’t.”