University Place council approves car tab fees; authorization vote awaits

Staff writerDecember 4, 2013 

Webs of shiny black lines weave along Grandview Drive, one of University Place’s most picturesque streets.

They don’t stop there. The twisting squiggles of dried liquid asphalt appear on most of UP’s roads. They are the city’s answer to preventing potholes.

It’s not an ideal solution, but the options are limited without an estimated $1.5 million the city says it needs to repave and maintain streets at a preferred level.

“It’s killing me because I put most of these improvements in and now I can’t maintain them,” UP Public Works director Gary Cooper said.

He said the city needs $971,230 a year just to do the basics — sweep streets, fix cracks, repaint lines and maintain shoulders and rights of way. That estimate would also fund repaving 1 mile of principal arterial streets every 12 years.

The University Place City Council took a half-step toward base-level funding by approving a transportation benefit district Monday night. The district renews the council’s authority to collect $20 on car tab renewals for all cars licensed in city limits.

The vote was 4-2, with Mayor Ken Grassi and Councilman Chris Nye in opposition.

A district was previously established in 2009, but because the collection was never authorized it had to be re-established.

The council is expected to vote on authorizing the collection of the $20 fee at its Dec. 16 meeting.

The fee is a drop in the bucket when looking at maintaining the city’s 102 miles of paved roadway, but it’s a start, Cooper said. University Place hasn’t repaved roads since 2009. Instead it fills cracks and patches holes — a practice Cooper said isn’t sustainable. He said more cuts to the road maintenance budget could lead to ramifications such as street lights going dark.

The money generated from the car tab fee wouldn’t be enough to return the city to a regular repaving schedule, but it would halve the road maintenance draw on the city’s general fund.

The fee would bring in an estimated $300,000 a year. To cover its annual road costs, UP uses between $500,000 and $600,000 from its general fund, along with $450,000 from the state gas tax.

Councilman Kent Keel hinted Monday that he would approve the fee, but said he’d prefer the city have a comprehensive plan to address the long-term road-funding picture.

“I want to just do it once and say ‘Yeah it’s going to hurt, and it’s going to hurt me too, but this is the solution,’ ” Keel said.

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467

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