Tacoma City Council to vote on dedicated road repair funds

Staff writerSeptember 18, 2013 

POTHOLE CREW

In this January 2009 file photo, City of Tacoma Public Works street maintenance crew Russ Stone, left, and Erik Sloan, right, fill the potholes with a patching material on S. Hosmer Street near the S. 72nd Street in Tacoma. (The News Tribune file)

LUI KIT WONG — TNT

The Tacoma City Council is one step closer to approving two dedicated funds to repair and improve the city’s bumpy and busted roads.

If approved next week, the new funds would ensure that any money that voters approve for road repairs and improvements would only be spent for that purpose. Voters will decide in November whether to pass Proposition 1, which seeks to impose an additional 2 percent tax on telephone, natural gas or electric company earnings, and use that money to pay for road work.

Council members said at their meeting Tuesday that creating a dedicated fund is a necessary step toward gaining voters’ trust.

Councilman Joe Lonergan said having a dedicated funding source for the street repairs will protect the money from whatever future City Council might deem as “the next shiny object” on which to spend the taxpayer money instead of repairing streets.

“We will have dollars dedicated to roads locked away,” Lonergan said. “I think that helps with our credibility.”

If the council approves the proposal next week, it would create a Street Operations and Maintenance Fund, which would hold money raised by Proposition 1 to pay for “basic maintenance and safety upgrades” to city streets.

Another $6.2 million, already collected annually through an earnings tax on other utilities, would also be directed to the fund.

The measure would also create the Transportation Capital and Engineering Fund to pay for grant-funded street improvements and the engineering costs for those projects.

Councilman Robert Thoms said the creation of the funds would “restore the trust we need to have with our constituents.”

“The magnitude is significant,” he said. “We all know it. We all drive it.”

If voters approve Proposition 1 in November, the city’s funding for road repairs and improvements would almost double to $26.1 million. The city has said the tax could raise as much as $11 million.

While the tax is on utility company earnings, City Manager T.C. Broadnax said Tuesday night that residents could expect to see up to $5 per month passed along in their utility bills.

Even if the tax does not pass, the city’s proposal would place the $6.2 million from the existing earnings tax — money currently used for general government expenses — into a dedicated fund for street repairs.

“It says this money is going to be on lockdown,” Mayor Marilyn Strickland said. “This is how we are going to address our problem.”

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542 kate.martin@ thenewstribune.com

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