Council considers gas tax for road repairs

Road repairs in Ashland over the next five to 10 years that will bring local streets up to "acceptable conditions" will cost the city more than $5 million, according to a staff report presented to the Ashland City Council last week.

"The required expenditures to adequately maintain our street network system far outweigh the typical revenues the City receives," the staff report, authored by Public Works Director Paula Brown, reads. "This has created a sizeable backlog in maintenance projects. Developing a consistent, long-term street/transportation funding plan to maintain and improve the transportation network must be a priority."

To help cover these costs the council is considering several funding options, including a local gas tax.

"A gas tax hits people who use the roads," Brown said in an interview on Monday. "There is a nexus there. A gas tax is one of the many options to find a sustainable source for transportation and road systems."

Street maintenance is directly related to the price of oil. Asphalt is made from oil-based products, and road repairs require heavy-duty trucks and other equipment that burns fossil fuels. As the price of oil has gone up, so has the cost of road repairs, both locally and nationally.

"It's pretty much a nation-wide issue right now," said City Councilor Russ Silbiger. "This is not just a city problem. We have to address this in a reasonably timely fashion."

But before the city takes action on the matter, some on the council want to wait to see if Jackson County will institute a gas tax first. A gas tax has already been considered on a regional and state-wide basis.

"Our [gas] prices would be different than the rest of the Valley," said Councilor Kate Jackson. "It's probably better if it's done on a regional basis, so people don't just go to the Valley View interchange. There are two gas stations there outside of the city limits."

Others on the council, such as Eric Navickas agree a gas tax would work best on a regional basis, but he worries that the fiscally conservative Jackson County Commissioners might never move on the tax.

"A county-wide solution would be ideal," he said. "But considering the county commissioners, it's pretty unrealistic."

Silbiger said because other area cities are also pushing for a regional gas tax &

the city of Rogue River recently tried to institute its own city-wide gas tax &

he thinks Jackson County may move quicker than normal on the new tax.

"I know other cities are talking to the county, too," he said. "The last thing they want to hear is Ashland is leading the way for a gas tax."

Several Ashland officials said waiting for the state to impose a gas tax would be less beneficial because the state would take a cut of the funds for administrative reasons.

"We don't get as much localized funding that way," Brown said on Monday.

Ashland is also considering reallocating meals tax and transient occupancy tax funds to help pay for street repairs, Brown added.

Silbiger and Navickas both said another idea the council is considering is a vehicle registration fee that would charge vehicles based on weight.

"The less efficient cars would be taxed heavier," Navickas said.

Cities in the northern part of the state have already begun to institute gas taxes. Both Tigard and Milwaukie charge gas taxes at the pump; Tigard charges $.03 per gallon and Milwaukie charges $.02 per gallon. In both those cities, gas station owners have tried to rescind the tax.

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