Road Upkeep May Lead To Higher Taxes

SPOKANE – The Washington Legislature has given cities and counties the go-ahead to raise car tab fees, and Spokane County and the cities of Spokane and Spokane Valley may take full advantage.

Some local jurisdictions are looking at that option to maintain the roads.

Spokane’s 3rd Avenue was one of the first streets to be repaired with street bond money approved by voters a few years ago. But if you turn off 3rd, say, on to Washington, you’re in for a bumpy ride again. Street crews would like to keep the repaired roads smooth, but many cities say, the money just isn’t there.

The construction caused headaches for drivers and business owners, but almost three years, and $5 million later, 3rd Avenue has weathered the harsh weather, although street crews warn, if they can’t maintain the road, it won’t stay smooth for long.

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner says there’s no money in the budget for street maintenance, and with street crews estimating it will take more than $10 million a year to prevent rough roads, she’s looking at all of her options.

“I don’t like the idea of an additional property tax, sales tax, or gas tax,” Verner says. “That leaves us with few options.”

Verner says she’s considering increasing the price for car tabs, as well as a tax on surface parking lots. Spokane Valley Mayor Rich Munson is considering the same.

“We don’t have money starting next year,” he says. “It starts going negative.”

Munson says street maintenance in the valley comes with a price tag of $7 million a year. Munson says he would consider a tax hike, if voters approve it.

“There are some ugly choices to be made if we don’t get the money,” Munson says.

One way or another, it appears people be paying for street maintenance, either with increased taxes or fees, or a bumpy ride on area roads, which Verner says isn’t an option.

“It’s essential for us to take care of our local people, but to also sustain sustain our economy,” she says. “We have to take care of our streets.”

And Spokane Valley Mayor Munson says the city is still weighing its options, but the city could present a ballot measure to voters as early as November.

Meanwhile, Verner says she’s still working on the financial picture, but hopes to have some sort of financial plan ready to go by 2009.