Saturday, May 25, 2013
Covering Dallas, Monmouth, Independence, Falls City and surrounding areas since 1868
October 16, 2012
FALLS CITY -- A transportation utility fee (TUF) will be included as a funding option in Falls City's transportation systems plan (TSP).
The city council approved adding the TUF to the plan at its meeting Thursday night, but not before a lengthy discussion about why it may be needed and what it means to include it.
City Administrator Amber Mathiesen summarized the city's street maintenance situation and funding.
She said a transportation funding analysis listed options to pay for maintenance and upgrades -- including a TUF, general fund, SDCs, a local gas tax, local improvement districts, urban renewal districts, special programs, grants and bonds.
Mathiesen said the main funding source is the city's portion of the state gas tax.
She added the city does not have a street systems development charge -- a fee collected when new development is completed within city limits -- and very limited general fund resources to allocate to streets.
"Right now we are transferring some money from the general fund, about $7,000 per year, just to maintain gravel and what little street maintenance we do," she said.
"To do the level of maintenance we see a need for, we are looking at needing roughly $30,000 to $45,000 more a year," Mathiesen added.
The 2012-13 street fund budget is $72,610, with $52,500 coming from state gas tax revenue.
Thursday's discussion raised concerns among citizens that the city was implementing the fee now. In response, city officials were very specific in describing the decision before them.
"We are not deciding on a fee right now," Mayor Amy Houghtaling said. "We are not even deciding when it will start. This is basically to say that it can be a funding option."
Houghtaling noted including the fee in the plan would enable TSP writers to perform a study and create fee methodology. If that wasn't completed with the plan, the city would have to pay for it later if it wanted to pursue a fee.
She added the city's largest source of funding for streets is highly variable, so a TUF was worth including.
"When gas prices go up, our gas tax money goes down because people aren't buying gas," she said. "Gas tax revenue is not consistent or predictable."
Councilor Lori Jean Sickles said she was afraid a future council would implement the fee against citizen wishes.
"I'm not saying that we don't need something like that and that it's not a good idea," Sickles said. "I'm saying I don't feel comfortable making this decision for the 1,000 people who live here. I would feel comfortable putting it on the ballot."
Councilor Henry Hughes acknowledged those concerns, but also said the council would be remiss if it didn't include the fee as an option.
"We have nothing to lose by doing this, except making some people nervous," he said. "But I will be happy to talk about what this means."
Council President John Volkmann added the city would be able to make a better-informed decision regarding the fee if it were studied.
The council approved including the fee in the TSP on a 4-1 vote, with Sickles voting against the motion.