City Council requests work and communications plans before proceeding

by: TIDINGS FILE PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - The city will hold off on doubling maintenance fees to fix streets like Bland Circle - for now. A recommendation to raise street maintenance fees by more than double in 2014 was put on hold during Monday’s city council work session, as councilors requested both a project list and a communications plan before voting to approve such an increase.

Though the West Linn Citizens Budget Committee recommended a doubling of fees in both the approved 2014-15 biennial budget and the new master fees and charges schedule, City Manager Chris Jordan was instead directed by the council to amend the proposed budget to include no increase on street maintenance fees.

The council will revisit the issue later this summer, once city officials have the chance to prepare a more detailed work plan. If it is deemed acceptable, the council can vote at a later date to amend both the budget and fee resolution to include the street maintenance fee increase.

“Our goal for the next council discussion will be to present a variety of funding levels with corresponding work plans that would result if that level of expenditure was approved,” Assistant City Manager Kirsten Wyatt said. “We heard from the council Monday night that they not only want a funding plan, but also a communications plan so the community understands where an increased street fee would be spent, community wide.”

In the meantime, street fees will hold steady at $5.89 per month, as opposed to $12.11 under the plan recommended by the budget committee.

West Linn’s streets average a ranking of 61 on the Pavement Condition Index (PCI) scale, which measures the quality of city streets. A new street is ranked at 100 and a street below 25 is considered failing; in total, West Linn’s streets measure out in “fair” condition according to Public Works Director Lance Calvert.

Doubling street fees, according to Calvert’s projection, would raise the city’s PCI scale from 61 to 70 — an improvement from “fair” to “very functional.”

Yet during Monday’s discussion, councilors were hesistant to base such a fee increase solely on this PCI projection.

“I can certainly see the need, and that we need to do something to increase street fees,” Councilor Jody Carson said. “But we also need to be more accountable to citizens, to say, ‘These are the streets that we’re actually going to do maintenance on.’”

Councilors Mike Jones and Jenni Tan agreed, and said they would need to see both a project list and a communications plan before signing off on a fee increase.

“I just would like to have a more detailed list,” Tan said. “So we can be held accountable.”

“If we vote on an increase, we want to know what it is we’re going to buy,” Mayor John Kovash added, “and to be able to share that with the public.”

As part of the street maintenance fee discussion, Carson also expressed interest in an ordinance change that would allow for street fee monies to be used for sidewalk expansion.

Carson argued that construction of new sidewalks should take precedence over fixing old ones.

“There are stretches of road without a sidewalk,” Carson said. “Safe routes to schools and parks are very important.”

According to Wyatt, this amendment would be included in any effort to raise street fees further down the line.

A vote to officially adopt the 2014-15 budget is scheduled during the June 17 council meeting.

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