Public will get a chance to comment on ‘benefit district’
By Ann McCreary
Twisp town officials are contemplating a new way to raise money to fix the town’s deteriorating streets through a fee on vehicles registered in Twisp, but they want to hear the public’s opinion about the idea first.
The town council is considering creating a “transportation benefit district” that would allow the town to levy an additional fee Twisp officials have proposed $20 on vehicles registered in town, and use the revenue for street maintenance and repairs.
Council members expressed differing opinions about the idea of imposing a new fee on residents, but agreed at their meeting last week that it would be worth inviting input from the community.
The subject is scheduled to be discussed at the council’s Feb. 9 meeting, during which the concept will be explained and the public will be able to comment.
The new source of funding is being considered due to a steady decline in the town’s street fund, which pays for filling potholes and other street maintenance and repairs.
The street fund, which is supported by property tax revenue, has dropped from $40,000 in 2012 to $15,000 in 2016, according to town officials. That has made it hard for the town to keep up with needed street repairs, they said.
“The fund is never adequate. It’s been an ongoing problem,” said Mayor Soo Ing-Moody.
In discussions of the transportation district, town officials are considering an annual $20 fee, which would be collected when vehicle registrations are renewed each year.
The fee would be collected by the department of licensing and turned over to the state treasurer’s office, which would distribute the money to the district — in this case, the town of Twisp — on a monthly basis.
The fee would be levied on about 698 vehicles registered in Twisp, which would generate about $13,960. The fee would not apply to campers, farm vehicles, mopeds, off-road vehicles, trailers or snowmobiles.
Although it would not generate a large amount of money, the additional revenue would produce a noticeable improvement in town streets, according to Andrew Denham, public works director.
“It’s a significant impact to our transportation budget — $13,000 to a lot of towns may not seem like a lot of money, but to this town it is,” Denham said. “My goal is to really concentrate on getting the entire town done with pothole repairs. With this kind of money the residents would literally see an impact on their street. “
Triple the maintenance
Denham said the money would “about triple” the amount spent last year by the public works department to fix potholes on residential streets.
The idea of a new fee did not appeal to council member Bob Lloyd. “It’s a burden to our residents that I think is unjust,” he said. “Everybody uses our roads and we’re going to penalize only those who live in town.”
“I don’t think $20 is a burden. It’s a very small amount of money,” said council member Aaron Studen. “To call it a burden is a stretch. Nobody likes to raise taxes but everybody likes to complain about potholes.”
Council member Hans Smith said the additional street maintenance would improve residential streets that are used primarily by people who live on them.
“There are a lot of roads that are serving the residents of town. This goes back to benefit those users, otherwise we’re just going to see those continue to deteriorate,” Smith said.
Lloyd said he like the idea of creating local improvement districts, in which property owners contribute to a special district to fund improvements in their own neighborhoods.
However, some of the lower-income neighborhoods may not be able to support a local improvement district, and streets in some of those areas need the most work, said Ing-Moody.“It may be unrealistic to expect all neighborhoods could contribute to a local improvement district,” she said.
Ing-Moody said funding from state and federal sources is available for improvements on larger arterial streets, but not residential streets. She said the street fund has dwindled as the town has tried to maintain deteriorating residential streets.
“As infrastructure ages the cost of making these improvements increases,” Ing-Moody said this week. “Some streets are so far gone as far as far as the integrity of the street goes that they can no longer hold a pothole fix. It just won’t last more than a season. We really need a long-term fix.”
Council members, including Lloyd, agreed that it would be worthwhile to provide information about a transportation benefit district to the public and invite comment at a council meeting before deciding whether to move forward on the idea.
If the council decides to establish a transportation benefit district, an ordinance would be drafted and a formal public hearing would be required before the ordinance could be adopted.