The Lakewood City Council continues to spin its wheels over asking voters to approve a fee or tax to pay for street maintenance and other transportation costs.
Council members have now turned their focus to 2014 because time is running out to send a measure to voters this year. The deadline to put a measure on the November ballot is Aug. 7, and leaders remain undecided on a specific proposal.
After more than two years of research and discussion, including separate reviews and recommendations by a citizen advisory board and a committee of three council members, the full council still is unsure what fee or tax should be levied and what the money should pay for.
Council members now are betting on a community survey that could go out as early as August to help them make decisions.
Lakewood officials have said they need $5 million a year over the next six years to keep streets in their current condition. Delaying maintenance will cost the city more in the long run, they say, because water in cracked asphalt eventually will compromise the roadbed and require more expensive repair work, as one example.
The city operates and maintains more than $250 million in street-related infrastructure, including roads, bridges and culverts, sidewalks and street lights.
The City Council has been looking at a so-called “transportation benefit district” as a means to raise revenue. Such districts are an independent taxing authority used to fund road projects. They typically add $20 to the annual vehicle registration fee, which doesn’t require voter approval, and can charge up to a $100 fee with voter approval.
The Lakewood council formed a district in August 2012, but so far it has assessed no tax or fee. The district does, however, carry some money: The city budgeted $350,000 in 2013 and another $700,000 for all of 2014.
Council members have pledged that voters will decide whether the district assesses a tax or fee on them. At one time, the council floated the possibility of asking voters to increase their property taxes 37 cents per $1,000 of assessed value; it would have generated an estimated $1.8 million a year.
To garner more public support for a tax or fee, officials are weighing adding sidewalks and other street-related projects in residential neighborhoods. Councilman Jason Whalen said the approach could “make an overall funding package more sellable” to voters. But at this week’s council meeting, Councilwoman Helen McGovern-Pilant cautioned against making promises to voters that the city might not be able to afford.
“There’s not going to be enough money in there to construct bike paths all over the city,” she warned Monday.
The city proposes adding street-funding questions to an upcoming survey that will explore public interest in raising money for parks and recreation projects. The draft questions would ask residents to rate the condition of Lakewood streets, sidewalks and street lights, as well as options for paying for their maintenance and repair, such as a property or sales tax increase or license tab fee. The survey will cost $2,000.
Councilwoman Mary Moss said Monday that any tax measure would be a tough sell for voters because Lakewood streets are in fairly good shape now.
“Until they can fall in the hole, they’re not going to see” the long-term need for money to maintain the street, she said.
McGovern-Pilant, who will leave office at the end of the year, said the council should get down to business and approve a $20 fee without going to voters. Whalen and Mayor Don Anderson expressed a willingness to do that after the public has its say — even if voters reject a ballot measure.