Sometime this fall, the city will wrap up the final street maintenance job financed by the 2004 voter-approved bond. By all accounts, the 10-year program has been a success, working just the way political leaders said it would.
But now what?
The city doesn’t have a dedicated fund for street maintenance, and the need never ends.
A creative financing plan to be placed in front of voters this fall would change that.
If voters agree to extend current property tax assessments, the city would get an annual, recurring $25 million to repair and upgrade streets and curbs and add bike lanes, lighting and landscaping.
Tax rates wouldn’t change. The current assessments cover the 2004 street bond, which still has 16 years of payments, and two park bonds adopted by voters in 1999 and 2007.
If voters pass the new 20-year levy, those three bonds would be refinanced and paid off at a lower interest rate, and the city would have a continuous source of revenue for streets.
It’s an ingenious solution to a problem that has long dogged the city. Before voters say no, they should consider the alternatives. It’s either raising some other tax or allowing streets to once again fall into disrepair.
It should be clear by now that city dwellers will have to finance city streets. The state won’t be riding to the rescue. It can’t keep up with its own projects – witness the incomplete North Spokane Corridor. The federal government won’t bail us out either. The Highway Trust Fund is teetering on the edge of extinction.
The gasoline tax has become a less reliable funding source because of the increased fuel efficiency of autos. So governments at all levels are trying to devise alternative ways to finance street projects and upkeep.
The city of Spokane has hit upon an innovative idea. It’s like refinancing a mortgage to finance home improvement.
One of the reasons the street bond was a success is that city leaders identified specific projects that would be completed and then followed through. Taxpayers are generally more amenable to requests if they know where the money is going. So the city has devised a list of projects that would be completed in the first two years if the voters say yes.
Some examples from the first year: Monroe and Lincoln streets, from Main to Eighth avenues. Ray Street, from Third to 29th avenues. Indiana Avenue, from Division to Hamilton streets.
As a testament to its soundness, the City Council voted unanimously to send this street plan to the voters. Tax-hating Councilman Mike Fagan may end up voting against it, but he still called it sensible.
And it is.
It retires the debt on three bond issues, provides long-term funding for streets and doesn’t raise new taxes.
You won’t find a better deal around.