Council narrows options for street funds

Using a portion of Ashland's restaurant meals tax and expanding the tax to cover snack items are off the table as possible revenue sources to close a $2 million yearly shortfall in street maintenance funding.

"It may open up, along with a bag of chips, a can of worms," Mayor John Morrison said.

Revenues from the meals tax are already designated for the city's sewage treatment plant and parks.

But other funding options are still under consideration, including a possible property tax increase and a gas tax.

On Tuesday night, the Ashland City Council winnowed down a list of funding options recommended by the Transportation Financing Task Force. The task force met from March through August to develop recommendations for closing the funding gap. City staff will continue to research funding options the council earmarked as possibilities.

The council began by unanimously endorsing the task force's proposal to reduce maintenance standards to save money.

The previous goal was for all city streets to average a 78 on a 100-point scale that measured street condition. City streets now average 78.

Councilors agreed that main streets should be kept in good condition at an average score of 75. The primary streets that feed into those main routes can fall to an average score of 70, while neighborhood streets can dip to an average of 60.

Councilors also quickly agreed not to impose a bicycle registration fee to help pay for bike lane maintenance costs.

"We should probably be giving incentives to ride bicycles rather than taxing them," Councilor Eric Navickas said.

Bicycle owners can continue to pay a $3 fee to register their bikes with the Ashland Police Department. Registration helps police return stolen bikes to their owners.

Councilors unanimously agreed to lobby for a gas tax that would cover all of Jackson County, or even Jackson and Josephine Counties.

"Every city and the county is facing the same problems"&

166;. The time is right for a county or even two-county solution," Councilor Russ Silbiger said.

While motorists are feeling pinched at the pump by high gas prices, governments are seeing rising street and highway maintenance costs. Asphalt is a petroleum-based product, and construction equipment is powered by gas.

The city already places a street fee on utility bills.

Councilors agreed that increasing those fees should be a last resort since the fee is regressive and hits residents whether they drive or not.

Other funding options include Oregon Department of Transportation funding and grants, federal funding, increased fees on development, continuing to use Local Improvement Districts, using a portion of lodging taxes, an Ashland vehicle registration fee, a fee on businesses that use many vehicles, encouraging walking and biking to school, selling carbon credits to people with large vehicles and forming an Urban Renewal zone.

The council also voted unanimously to form an Ashland Transportation Committee to tackle transportation and public transit issues.

Councilor David Chapman said the focus of the city's existing Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission and Traffic Safety Commission is too narrow.

Ashland Public Works Director Paula Brown agreed the city should have a goal to look at broad transportation issues.

"We're missing the transportation link. The Transportation Committee would look at the whole picture," she said.

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