Saying cash-strapped Yakima is out of options, the City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved placing a $30 car-tab fee measure before voters in April to start fixing a backlog of failed and failing roads.
Officials say at least $20 million is needed to make a dent in the backlog and they can’t scrape together that kind of money from the city’s general operating budget.
“There is no plan B. We have no more money,” Councilwoman Sarah Bristol said.
However, Bristol and other council members said they doubt that voters will pass the measure during an election slated for April 23.
Thirty-five cities and other local jurisdictions in Washington collect money for road maintenance through transportation benefit districts. Voters have never approved a car-tab fee in an election, although in 2011, voters in North Bend approved a sales tax increase to pay for road maintenance, according to City Manager Tony O’Rourke.
“I’ll vote for it, but I don’t think it’s going to happen,” Councilwoman Kathy Coffey said.
The measure would raise an estimated $1.5 million annually.
O’Rourke had asked the council to put a $40 fee on the ballot. But council members didn’t think voters would approve the measure, and lowered it to $30.
Under state law, Yakima’s transportation benefit district has the authority to create a $20 car tab fee without voter approval. But several council members said that wouldn’t raise enough money, and they want to be transparent with voters.
If voters approve the measure, the city will sell bonds worth about $18 million, and cover the annual debt payments with money from the car tab fees.
“We need to start now and pay as much as we can,” because costs will rise exponentially the longer the roads deteriorate, Bristol said.
The city has drastically underfunded its road maintenance for decades. Today, 1 percent of its streets have structurally failed, and 18 percent are in poor condition, according to city officials.
There is some risk with using the fee to pay off a bond, O’Rourke said.
The car-tab fee will sunset after 10 years, but the bond payments would likely go for 20 years. So, if voters approve the fees in April, they will have to renew them in a decade.
Council members said the election is expected to cost $60,000 to $70,000.
Yakima has created enough room in its budget to sell $5 million in bonds in the spring to pay for some road work, O’Rourke said.
In other action Tuesday night, the City Council told staff to explore a proposal by Yakima County for the city to become the sole operator of Yakima Air Terminal. Currently, the county, city and an airport advisory board oversee operations.
The council also gave the city’s Transit Department a green light to hold a public hearing on proposed fare increases and cuts to service and other costs.
Prior to the council meeting, city officials said the proposal is necessary to shore up Transit’s budget. Without it, the department will run a projected $1.1 million deficit in 2016, and will have to put off replacing old buses. The City Council will vote on the plan after the public hearing in January. No changes can be made without the council’s approval.
Two ordinances regulating where and how adult entertainment businesses can operate in Yakima sailed through the City Council, which followed the recommendation from the city’s Planning Commission.
The first ordinance sets zoning for adult entertainment businesses. Under the new ordinance, they would be constrained to about 150 parcels covering 400 acres scattered around the city’s edges.
The second ordinance set operational requirements such as dancers must be at least 8 feet from the audience and must be on a stage that is at least 18 inches off the floor.