Group convened to advise city on street repair tax

Tacoma City Council is considering asking voters to raise taxes later this year to pay for street repairs. Before they do they want to hear from residents from various backgrounds and neighborhoods on the topic. The city may place a measure on the ballot to increase property taxes by 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for the next six years. This would be in addition to money already going toward such work. Council members recently suggested people to serve on a committee that would advise the council on what work should be done and how to present it to voters. The first meeting of the Citizens Neighborhood Street Improvement and Safety Task Force took place on May 29.

Mayor Marilyn Strickland began the meeting with some remarks. She noted the last time Tacoma voters approved a tax for street improvements was in 1968. “The longer we wait the worse it gets,” she said of Tacoma’s pothole riddled streets.

Some people skeptical of the tax increase were invited to serve on the task force. She said this would provide diverse views that would help city officials make better decisions.

Councilmember Ryan Mello said the condition of streets is the topic he hears most about from residents.

Some task force members are active in neighborhood groups. Some hold jobs as planners and engineers. Members at the meeting were: Susanne Marten, Mike Grimm, Stan Smith, Mark Martinez, William King, Leslie Young, Lynette Scheidt, Mitch Robinson, Yonn Dierwechter, Darrel Bowman, Ralph Thomberg, Bob McCutchen, Edwina Magrum, Jeff Clark, Dorian Walker, Clayton Harris, Tricia DeOme, Mike Hutchinson and Jay Weidenbach. Three others invited to serve but who were not present are Chelsea Levy, John Thurlow and Lois Starks. Martinez and Young were selected to be co-chairs.

City Manager T.C. Broadnax moved here in February from San Antonio. He grew up in Kansas and has lived in Florida. He said he is not proud of the streets in his new hometown. “I have never seen streets in such bad condition.”

Broadnax even mentioned Tacoma Weekly’s popular Pothole Pig, accompanied by a photograph.

He said city staff is committed to providing the task force any information it needs. Each member received a packet of information with results from a recent survey of residents that asked many questions about streets and a possible tax measure. It also included information on the type of streets in town and what could potentially be funded if voters approve the tax measure.

Public Works Director Dick McKinley explained oil mat streets, which account for 28 percent of neighborhood streets. These are dirt roads coated with old motor oil and gravel.

He explained two Tim Eyman initiatives passed by Washington voters. Initiative 695 sharply reduced vehicle license tab fees, while Initiative 747 put a cap on property tax increases, unless raised by a local vote as the city is considering. McKinley said these have cut deeply into the funds city governments have for street repairs.

Strickland noted Tacoma has limits in terms of tax revenue the city can collect on businesses, and thus residents must be willing to make a “heavier lift” in terms of higher property taxes than people living in other cities in the state.

Several task force members offered comments. Smith said this funding source will not repair all the streets in six years and the public must be aware of that. He voiced concern the public will lose confidence in city government if it feels street repairs amount to “Band-Aids on bullet wounds.”

Bowman said long ago the city showed vision in developing its electrical power and water systems. More recently it did so again with installation of Click! Network. He said Tacomans want their city to achieve that same level of excellence with streets.

Robinson said voters might be more willing to pass a tax increase if the city spent more from the general fund on street repairs.

Council and staff hope to get a final report back from the task force in late June or early July.

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