Lakewood considers $20 car tab fee to fund roads

City manager proposes license fee to catch up on $44 million backlog of unfunded road projects

Staff writerMay 23, 2014 

Lakewood’s city manager is recommending a $20 car tab renewal fee as part of a larger transportation funding package in the city.

The City Council will hear from City Manager John Caulfield about the proposal on Tuesday.

Lakewood has $44 million in road projects that are unfunded, including $9.2 million for general maintenance work such as crack sealing, traffic signal upkeep and street overlays.

Caulfield has proposed the car tab increase to help cover a portion of the $9.2 million maintenance expense.

The council, which will discuss the proposal while acting as the city’s transportation benefit district board, isn’t expected to make a decision Tuesday. But it also won’t “kick it down the road” as it has in the past, Mayor Don Anderson said.

“The difference between now and a year or two years ago is the city manager has come in and he has really good finance skills,” Anderson said. “He has been able to scrub the city budget.”

The council has the authority as the transportation board to authorize the $20 increase without a public vote. It could raise it up to $100, but anything above $20 requires a vote of the people.

To help pay for other projects on the city’s $44 million transportation to-do list, Caulfield has suggested using a combination of funding options, including existing revenues, grants and asking the public to consider a sales tax or property tax increase.

He’s also suggesting the city shorten its priority list of large-scale road projects to be built over the next six years.

Revenue received from the tax increase would be used to pay for that shorter list of projects, which he estimated would total $22 million.

The council has discussed how to pay for Lakewood transportation needs for years, relying on advisory committees and public surveys for guidance. It formed the transportation benefit district in 2012 so it could collect street revenue as an independent taxing district, but it has failed to move forward with a plan until now.

“In some ways this is like a jump out of an airplane, you have to be ready to go,” Anderson said. “Everybody’s agreed on the need, but there’s no easy path to a solution.”

The city has a limited number of places where it can get money for road maintenance and projects, which is why it’s looking at increasing car tab fees and potentially a tax increase.

The council has taken time on a decision because it wants give the complete picture to citizens, Anderson said; it doesn’t want to raise car tab fees and then surprise voters by asking for a tax increase later.

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467

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