Oct. 26 Daily News editorial
Local drivers need to ask themselves what hurts more: Paying an additional vehicle fee or tax, or getting jolted by potholes.
Streets in several local cities are in disrepair, as they are in other cities around the region.
Local elected bodies have taken a variety of approaches to paying for fixing the streets. Next month, voters in Longview and Castle Rock will decide whether to provide more funding for street repair.
We wouldn't be surprised if residents of the Rock don't want to raise their sales tax and Longview voters reject the city's proposed $20 car tab, despite warnings that the longer road maintenance is delayed, the more it will cost.
Cities have several ways to gauge the quality of streets.
In Longview's case, the city hired a consultant who found that, on a scale of 0 to 100, the city's streets had an overall average score of 68. Most cities nationwide score 63 to 65.
The precision of the road numbers are a disadvantage for city officials who are calling for more funding. Many citizens likely accept "slightly above average" as just fine for streets.
Another measure of roads' worthiness is the number of complaints about them. In Castle Rock, gripes about street maintenance have doubled during the last six years.
To show how bumpy its streets are, Kelso offered a cost estimate of $1.2 million a year to preserve its streets, far more than is available.
The local cities aren't alone in their angst over asphalt.
Portland's Transportation Bureau estimates that 46 percent of neighborhood streets and 28 percent of major roads are in "poor" or "very poor" condition.
Portland isn't planning to overhaul its worst roads until 2017, preferring to use the money for bike paths and streetcars instead. Ah, those weird Portlanders really do love their bikes.
In Seattle, one out of four major roads are deemed to in serious disrepair and one in 10 is so bad that it needs to be reconstructed, according to an article in the Seattle Times.
However, last year, Seattle voters overwhelmingly defeated a proposition that would have imposed a $60 annual fee to fix streets and make transit improvements.
Cities can impose an additional $20 car tab fee without going to a vote of the people. That's just what the Kelso City Council is considering doing. Last week, council members informally agreed to raise tabs by $20, which would generate $180,000 a year for street maintenance.
"This problem is not going away," Kelso Mayor David Futcher said. "It is negligent of us to let that deteriorate any further."
Despite similar predictions in Longview, the Longview City Council has been cautious. Longview is holding an advisory vote on the $20 tab fee.
Some people argue that whether or not you hold an advisory vote, a vehicle fee surcharge isn't fair because it applies only to people who live in town.
With that in mind, the Castle Rock City Council is asking voters to raise the city's sales tax by 0.2 percent — 2 cents on a $10 taxable purchase — to pay for street work. A sales tax spreads the burden among all who shop or eat in Castle Rock.
An opponent of the Castle Rock sales tax didn't dispute the fact that city's streets need help, but he objected to raising taxes in the weak economic climate.
If times get better, so might our streets. Consider that in pre-recession 2004, Spokane voters approved a bond issue to fix the city's streets that costs about $70 per year for the owner of a house valued at $100,000.
Meanwhile, some local businesses will prosper — the ones that do wheel alignments and sell tires and shock absorbers.