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COOS BAY — The Coos Bay City Council on Tuesday night held a work session to discuss the possibility of levying a transportation utility fee to pay for road maintenance.

An agreement on the price of the flat-rate fee was not formed by the council in its discussion, and councilors requested more information from city staff on the fees before bringing it to a vote at a city council meeting.

If the city were to implement the fee, it would be collected through the resident’s sewage bills. The city has approximately 6,025 sewer connections. With the number of sewer connections involved, the city could potentially collect $72,300 annually in road maintenance revenue for each dollar of the flat monthly fee.

“I am an advocate of this. Streets are important, and I think we’ve made a good dent, but there’s still more to do. I’m not sure where we’re generating in revenue at this point, but this will help,” Coos Bay Mayor Joe Benetti said.

A streets task force met four times before to discuss street maintenance issues in Coos Bay. After considering various options and ideas, the task force came up with several recommendations for the council to consider, including a transportation utility fee.

Traditionally road maintenance has been paid for by state gasoline taxes, but the increase in projects and costs has left the city unable to meet the needs on state gas taxes alone. Coos Bay earns about $300,000 annually from the state for road maintenance, with another $400,000, which it collects through a franchise fee with Pacific Power.

The maximum amount that the city discussed would be a $10 per month fee for each water and sewage user. The minimum that was discussed was a $3 per month fee.

Mayor Benetti said that he would like to implement the fee at a rate of $7 per month. Other councilors suggested a $5 fee, and a couple of others suggested the city go after the maximum amount of $10 per month.

“If we proceeded with a $10 Transportation Utility Fee, then we would essentially have enough money to maintain the roads, and the rest of the money could go toward improvement,” Coos Bay City Councilor Lucinda DiNovo said.

DiNovo pushed for the maximum amount because she felt it would be easier to present residents with the fee once, instead of implementing a fee and then having to increase it a year or so down the line.

“I feel like we only have one opportunity to put this out, and I’m afraid what’s going to happen is  that we’re going to wish we went to $5 instead of $3. Then I’m going to be irritated as a citizen that you did it at $3 one year, and then decided that you’re jumping it to $5. The interpretation is that you either didn’t do your homework, or your just dinging me to ding me,” DiNovo said.

Councilor Stephanie Kilmer was hesitant on levying the maximum fee, saying that she doesn’t know how much the people of Coos Bay can bear all at once.

Recently the city of North Bend discussed a similar $5-per-month road maintenance fee, which was ultimately voted down by the North Bend City Council. Councilors in North Bend felt new funding for road maintenance would be cheaper on community members if it were collected through a gas tax. North Bend wanted to put the gas tax on the November ballot, but were unable to get it in on time.  

There was talk a few years back between Coos Bay and North Bend both implementing a gas tax, but it didn’t end up going through.

Benetti said that the state released some information a couple of years ago that suggested that local gas tax would never generate enough revenue to maintain roads.

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Nicholas A. Johnson can be reached at 541-266-6049, or by email at nicholas.johnson@theworldlink.com.

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