By Ann McCreary
After hearing public comments both in favor and against the concept of charging a new fee on vehicles registered in Twisp to fund street repairs, the Twisp Town Council has decided to consider the idea further in the town’s Public Works Committee.
The council invited citizens to comment recently on the idea of creating a Transportation Benefit District (TBD) to raise money for street maintenance and repair.
The TBD would allow the town to levy an additional fee — Twisp officials have proposed $20 per vehicle — on vehicles registered in town. The revenue — estimated to be about $13,700 per year — would be earmarked for the town’s streets.
“I agree the roads could use some work, however this is a very regressive tax,” said Alice West. “The person who drives a $600 car will pay the same amount as someone who drives a $60,000 Land Rover,” she said.
Mark Edson also said he felt the fee “would target a lot of people on fixed incomes” and wondered why only residents would pay when many non-residents drive on Twisp Streets.
“I won’t disagree the town needs money” for street repairs, he added.
Barry Stromberger said he was “basically supportive” of the fee, but said he has five vehicles that he uses for different purposes, and registering all of them would be expensive.
He wondered whether the town could put a limit on the number of vehicles owned by one person that would be charged the fee.
Dwight Filer, who served on the Twisp council until January, said he understands as a former council member “how little money the town has to maintain infrastructure.”
The additional fee may be difficult for some people, “but we’re doing them no favors by allowing the infrastructure to crumble,” Filer said.
Greta Oosterhof questioned whether the streets that are most in repair — she cited the lower part of Second Avenue as an example — would be fixed if the district were created. She said she was concerned about elderly people in the neighborhood who have trouble negotiating potholes on the street.
“I’m against the $20 fee unless I know something is going to be done for the safety of the elderly,” Oosterhof said.
Mayor Soo Ing-Moody acknowledged that citizens are sometimes upset “that the town would fund a project when clearly another project needs it more.”
She said that the town often tries to leverage funding by doing street repairs as part of other projects, such as when the Methow Valley Irrigation District was laying underground irrigation lines and had to dig up some town streets.
Public Works Director Andrew Denham said some street repair projects must wait because other work — such as water or sewer improvements — needs to take place before new pavement can be put down.
He said Second Avenue is an example, because the water main below the street needs to be upsized in order to meet fire flow requirements before it can be paved.
Ing-Moody said some of Twisp’s streets are rated in such bad condition that state and federal funding sources aren’t available fix them. The town’s street fund has been declining in recent years, leaving the town short of money for smaller repairs that don’t qualify for federal and state transportation grants.
“No one here has said the streets are great, let’s not do anything,” said council member Hans Smith. “We do have a problem we need to deal with. We’re not being given many options. This [TBD] is one we can do of our own accord.”
Before creating the district, the council would need to develop detailed plans for how the money would be spent, and hold a formal public hearing, Smith said.
There is a lot of public review before the TBD is established, he said. “It’s up to us as a council to detail where the money would go.”
The fees for the district would be collected by the department of licensing and returned to the town on a monthly basis. Twisp officials said the town would receive 99 percent of the fees.
The fee would not apply to campers, farm vehicles, mo-peds, off-road vehicles, trailers or snowmobiles.
The council decided the town’s Public Works Committee should consider the proposal further and report back to the board.