Tab tax revenue drives street talk
City officials ponder transportation projects
Six months before the debut of a new tax on vehicles, city leaders are starting to debate how to spend the revenue.
Spokane will begin collecting $20 tab fees on vehicles registered in the city around Sept. 1. The city expects to collect about $800,000 this year and $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 plug budget shortfalls in 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.
The city’s 2011 street maintenance list includes 20 projects estimated to cost $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 council 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 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 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 a still-to-be-appointed citizens advisory committee.
City officials say they are working on suggestions for possible repaving and sidewalk projects to fund. Those projects could be ones 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.Under state law, the council has complete authority over how the tab tax money is spent. Verner has no veto power.
Assistant City Attorney Mike Piccolo said the council could hire the city’s street maintenance department or 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.
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 pick up leaves from city streets last year. Officials said as cold weather ends the city will better understand what damage the roads sustained and will formulate priorities, including leaf pickup.
Mandyke said it’s not yet clear when leaf pickup will start. One thing is certain: “If it snows tomorrow, it will be later than if it doesn’t.”