Lake Oswego City Council dives into pathway funding options
A persistent issue in Lake Oswego over the years has been how to fund safe pathways for people.
During the Sept. 28 meeting, the Lake Oswego City Council discussed a handful of funding options with staff. The council ultimately prioritized two options to examine further: increasing the street maintenance fee and going out for a general obligation bond.
"Much of the City's roadway infrastructure is based on the original rural characteristics; but the suburban and urban growth levels have changed the functions and needs over the last 30-40 years," read the city's staff report. "Lake Oswego roadways often lack basic systems such as stormwater and pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure to meet the current densities and uses."
City Engineer Erica Rooney said the goal was to come before the council to set the groundwork for ideas to fund pathway projects, dive deeper into a few possibilities and eventually return to the council with more details on those specific funding options.
Rooney said there were well over 300 transportation infrastructure projects that were identified as part of the 2014 Transportation Plan and a vast majority were pathways. Rooney added that pathways have become more of a council priority over the last couple years.
In an effort to look at different funding options for the myriad projects, Rooney presented the council with five possibilities to consider: a street maintenance fee increase, a general fund transfer increase, a general obligation bond, a local gas tax and the redistribution of current resources.
A majority of councilors expressed adverse thoughts toward a local gas tax and noted that if current resources or dollars were redistributed or increased for pathways, it would be taking away from other projects. Many said it would be important to cross that bridge when the time comes.
City Councilor Jackie Manz said she doesn't typically favor increasing fees, but she was intrigued by the street maintenance fee hike.
"That seems to be less of a hit," she said. "The cash flow aspect of it is better. It's more sustainable over time."
According to the city's staff report, the monthly street maintenance fee for 2021 was $9.95 for a single-family residence. This amount has generally increased by 1-3% each year. The staff report projected the fee could rise to $13.13 per month.
City Councilor John Wendland noted that if a general obligation bond was marketed in a palatable way for folks, people might get on board. Wendland said Lake Oswego residents support projects they believe will make a difference in their lives. He said more information — specifically about costs and the impact — would need to be gathered so people could see what the direct payoff would be.
"We have to have some sort of global city effort to bring all kinds of things together," said Wendland, adding that the city would need to create some "sizzle" around it.
Councilor Rachel Verdick agreed with Wendland.
"It needs to be very specific," she said. "I think people need to understand what their outcomes will be."
The bond would be a new source of funding designed specifically for pathway projects. If a bond were passed, it would increase property taxes for a set period of time.
Council President Daniel Nguyen asked about the street maintenance fee for those who live in apartment complexes or other multi-family housing units. He asked if there could be a waiver program for those who are on a fixed income.
Rooney said the fee would be charged to the property owner, so it may trickle down to the renter but that would be up to the owner. She added that the council could restructure the code language to incorporate ideas like waiver options.
"You could get as complex as you want," said Rooney, adding that each decision would impact the amount of money the city could bring in. "You'd want to run the calculations if you start changing the fee structure."
City Manager Martha Bennett recommended staff bring a policy option for council's consideration on the street maintenance fee increase right after the first of next year — rather than rushing to enact this in January. It would then likely go into effect in January 2023.
"I like that approach," Buck said. "Our street maintenance fee is already pretty low compared to other jurisdictions."
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