Nobody likes to pay extra taxes, but Richland city officials say the one they’re proposing will benefit the city for years to come.
[blockquote quote="The transportation benefit district is intended to add dedicated funding to the city’s street resurfacing project and the Duportail Bridge." source="Pete Rogalsky, director of Public Works for Richland" align="right" max_width="300px"]
The Richland City Council approved creating a Transportation Benefit District in March to collect money to improve city streets and build a $38 million Duportail Bridge.
On April 18, city staff will recommend a $20 car registration fee as the source of funding for the district.
If approved, $20 will be added to annual vehicle registration fees collected by the state Department of Licensing beginning in 2018.
Roughly $12 will go toward street improvements and $8 for the Duportail Bridge project, said Councilman Brad Anderson.
“I’m not a fan of increasing sales or property tax because once they are there, they’re hard to remove,” he said.
The creation of the transportation district is expected to raise about $850,000, $670,000 of which will be used for the pavement preservation project, and will pay for an extra nine lane miles of improvements a year.
The rest will be used to pay down the bonds for the Duportail Bridge work.
The city has committed to retiring the fee when the debt issued to pay for the bridge is paid. Anderson said that could take around 20 years, but it’s preferable to the alternative.'
“This is very important and critical not only for the city but also the greater area we live in,” said Anderson, who works in the private sector as general manager of Total Energy Management.
He said that with a fleet of more than 50 cars, thes business will feel the effects of the fee, but it’s one he is willing to support.
“I work for a business that has many vehicles on the road. Our community has always supported school bonds, but roads are such a critical component of our everyday lives. Businesses will benefit from it. The better your roads, the more people will drive through here, the better businesses will do, especially for an area that relies so heavily on sales tax income,” Anderson said.
Pete Rogalsky, director of Public Works for Richland, said safer streets and increased connectivity between central Richland and the Queensgate Drive area is good for local businesses.
“The street resurfacing all boils down to being responsible for and taking care of what you own,” Rogalsky said. “The Duportail Bridge will improve connectivity, reduce congestion and improve travel safety. The city is growing and the traffic burden associated with that growth is being felt. (It’s needed) to address that growth and allow our local economy to continue to grow without gridlocking and making our lives miserable with congestion.”
The city plans to take out $2.15 million in bonds to pay for the bridge, Rogalsky said.
The bridge over the Yakima River will include two travel lanes in each direction as well as bicycle lanes and sidewalks on each side.
“The city has a vision for having more activity and development in our downtown area, and we’re already seeing rapid growth in the Queensgate area, and the bridge as an area connector between the two will allow both areas to continue to develop and prosper,” Rogalsky said.
Washington state’s Connecting Washington legislation, signed by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2015, will provide an additional $20 million toward the project beginning in July. Other secured funds for the project include nearly $2 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the water pipeline replacement and $2.15 million for preliminary engineering, environmental reviews and property acquisition.
“The transportation benefit district is intended to add dedicated funding to the city’s street resurfacing project and the Duportail Bridge. The bridge has been very visible in its development for about ten years but it got really serious for 2015 when the state Legislature awarded us money through the gas tax package. Since that time, we became very committed to leveraging state money to start construction this year,” Rogalsky said.
The city hopes to break ground on the project at the end of this year and finish construction in 2020.
Funding for the city’s local pavement preservation program continues to be a serious issue for the city, Rogalsky said. The new transportation benefit district will provide dedicated funding to improve deteriorating street conditions, he said.
Street condition surveys indicate that $3 million to $3.5 million is needed each year to maintain Richland’s streets in good condition. The city’s current annual budget for the pavement program is $1.2 million.
“Right now with the funding we have available, we can only repave each street every 30 to 35 years and that is often not enough to ensure safe roadways,” Rogalsky said. “So between city staff and the city council we’ve been trying to figure out how to pull more money and from where so we can repave the streets in a more timely manner.”
Rogalsky knows not everyone is thrilled about having to pay additional fees. The city held a public hearing Feb. 21 to gauge reaction about the transporation district’s proposition.
“When you talk about raising taxes on people you always hear from people who don’t like that, but there has been some positive feedback as well,” Rogalsky said. “We’ve seen comments come through the city website — there are more negative messages than positive ones — but there is a significant group of people who do think it’s certainly time for bridge. It’s a mixed reaction.”
Richland is one of 90 cities in the state to form a transportation district to pay for transportation infrastructure or to renovate existing ones. Rogalsky said that more than half of those cities have imposed a levy on the car registration to generate funding while others have used sales or property tax.
The Richland City Council votes on the proposed fee during a meeting at 7:30 p.m. April 18 at Richland City Hall, 505 Swift Blvd.
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