Bend City Councilors approved a 5-cent fuel tax to go on the March ballot.
“We’ve wrung out the general fund budget as much as possible… We looked at adjusting our reserve funding policy… We’ve done everything we could in order to fund the unfunded $80 million liability that’s before us as a result of prior councils that didn’t either have the courage or weren’t appropriately directed or didn’t somehow see the necessity to properly fund our street preservation,” said Bend City Councilor Doug Knight. “So we are in the position that we’re in because of what I’ll describe politely as prior mistakes. It’s important that we solve the problem now, but it’s important that we don’t overstep.”
Councilors Casey Roats and Victor Chudowsky voted against the ballot measure after speaking out against the additional cost of a special election.
“Somebody worked for this money. It’s the sweat of somebody’s brow,” said Chudowsky about the $60,000-$70,000 price tag of a special March election versus an election in May.
Mayor Jim Clinton argued a special election would be a more honest, undistracted form of communication with the voters, referring to the buzz of the primaries that would surround a May election.
“Were trying to get the community to have an honest conversation about the road maintenance problem and how to pay for it,” Clinton said.
Bend City Councilors Sally Russell and Knight agreed with Clinton, saying the sooner the liability of the $80 million in deferred maintenance could be addressed the better it would be for the community. They were also firm on not having more than a 5-cent fuel tax.
“Every month we wait we’re losing more money in infrastructure,” Russell said. “The more we can do now, the less we are going to be paying the future…It benefits every single person in the community to bring this out in March and not in May. It’s going to affect every single person’s pocket books in a positive way if we do that.”
Roats was not convinced. He said he had a hard time justifying the cost difference between the March and May election and wasn’t confident a fuel tax would pass. If voters do not support the ballot measure Roats said there would be an additional $60,000 to $70,000 that the City of Bend would be in the hole.
“It’s kind of like buying a wedding ring before you know what she’s going to say,” Roats said.
He also pointed out that the additional cost would also give those opposed to a fuel tax more ammunition.
“A lot of people are really going to have a hard time understanding the sense when we’re telling them we don’t have money for streets, but we do have money for a special election,” Roats said.
Regardless of whether the election was to take place in March or May, Clinton reiterated the need for a dedicated funding source for street preservation.
“I don’t like the idea of the streets always being in this competition with all the important service that people want. I want the streets to have a serious dedicated revue stream that is isolated from all these ups and downs that are going to happen because we’re in a growing community and people come and they have a different priority on services,” he said. “I want the streets to have a much more solid foundation to address this huge backlog that we all understand if we take care of will be less expensive in the long run than it would have been had we continued to neglect it.”