Some North County city officials are eyeing an initiative on the November ballot that could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding for street maintenance projects would go away should it pass.
Initiative 976 would affect state and local transportation funding. Among other changes, it would limit the annual vehicle registration renewal — the “car tabs” — to be capped at $30 except for voter-approved charges. This would eliminate the ability for municipalities to impose their own car tab fees, which in North County both Battle Ground and Ridgefield do to fund road preservation projects.
Battle Ground has had a $20 additional car tab fee in effect since 2015 following the formation of a Transportation Benefit District (TBD) the year prior.
Battle Ground Public Works Director Mark Herceg said the aim for having a dedicated fund is for road maintenance in the city.
Funding through the car tabs has increased every year since the fee went into effect July 1, 2015, with projections from the city anticipating about $290,000 to be collected this year. The money funds projects such as chipsealing and microsurfacing of city roads, though Herceg noted the funds can also be used to match grants, allowing for a greater impact.
He said the city got a $367,000 grant from the state Transportation Improvement Board for part of the South Parkway Avenue improvement project in 2017, using $65,000 as a match.
The city also leveraged $12,000 of TBD funds to get almost $200,000 for a sidewalk project.
Should I-976 pass, Battle Ground spokesperson Bonnie Gilberti said that the projects the TBD funding has allowed would cease, adding that currently the city finance department did not have a plan to fund those projects without the fees.
Herceg explained that even with the TBD funding, the city is still behind in being able to maintain road conditions. He said that in order to keep the city’s Pavement Condition Index (PCI) score as it is, the city would need to invest about $1.1 million annually, far more than the $290,000 anticipated for collection this year.
That shortfall could be alleviated by another funding issue with the city, that of formal annexation into Clark County Fire District 3. Annexation would increase property taxes in the city but would increase city revenues, some of which would be used for road maintenance.
The potential of losing TBD funding was one of the biggest unknowns for financing street projects that Herceg has seen in his nearly 17 years with the city. Outside of direct local impacts, Herceg said that I-976 could also affect funding for state grants.
“We’ve gotten millions and millions of dollars over the years for projects that we’ve done from those granting opportunities,” Herceg said. “If they are affected, that will affect us.”
Should the city lose the funding source, it would mean a hit to road maintenance that would only compound with time.
“If you’re not preserving them in a certain timeframe, the cost to repair later on becomes that much more,” Gilberti said.
Though Battle Ground has been reliant on car tab revenues for several years, Ridgefield only recently approved its own $20 fee, which went into effect July 1 of this year. Ridgefield City Manager Steve Stuart said that so far the city has collected about $11,000 each month since it when into effect.
Should I-976 pass, it could spell a premature end to a funding source that Stuart said was intended to essentially double the city’s investment into road preservation.
“In some ways (it’s) better now then later, because we haven’t built a reliance on it,” Stuart said.
Though fairly new, he said the funding has already been used in preservation projects across the city, work that can’t be funded by fees from new development due to restrictions that those revenues be used only for new infrastructure.
“It’s an important point for people that development revenue that comes in is definitely helping to build needed infrastructure, but it cannot be used to maintain (it),” Stuart said.
Stuart noted that there are limited options for the city to take should I-976 pass, though given the city council’s push to increase road maintenance funding from the city’s general fund, he anticipates those investments to continue in one form or another.
“We’ll prioritize, and we’ll keep working,” Stuart said.