A Molalla resident is looking to collect 600 signatures on a petition to defer the street maintenance fee to voters

Molalla City Council ran forward with an $11 street maintenance fee on Jan. 10, joining neighboring cities that also have the fee such as Oregon City, Canby and Silverton, but some residents are responding with a 'whoa.'

Former city councilor Jason Griswold has filed a petition for a referendum, which, if successful, will defer the street maintenance fee decision to city residents for a vote.

"The reason I'm leading the petition," Griswold said, "is because there's been a lot of community support and discussion about some of the ways that the city is adding fees on to the city's utility, which is the water bill that everybody gets in city limits, and it's been raised considerably over the last few years.

"It's getting out of hand, and I'm trying to reign in these excessive fees that the city has been putting on the people."

In response to the petition, Mayor Jimmy Thompson offered his regard for the democratic process.

"I respect his right to petition to do so," Thompson said. "That's how our system is set up and kudos to him for taking advantage of it and standing up for what he believes in."

Griswold pointed out that in the absence of two councilors, only five city council members were present at the voting for the fee.

"Only five people voted on this fee increase for all the people in Molalla," Griswold said.

The fee increase comes as a result of three town hall meetings during which the city sought input from the community.

"We were completely open to feedback, and we actually went with the feedback that we received," Thompson said. "It's not like the city council determined some entirely different direction. People that came and participated wanted the fee. They agreed with the need for it…they went with the $11 option, and that was the recommendation that came to council and that was the recommendation that was put forward."

PIONEER PHOTO: JOHN BAKER - Public Works Director Gerald Fisher explains the city's street maintenance needs and funding options at a town hall meeting.

The fee, if upheld, would provide funds for the maintenance of Molalla's deteriorating roads. Thompson said that he is typically not in favor of tax and other increases, but that he did his research on what needed to be done for Molalla's roads.

"The people that elected me elected me to take care of the assets that the city has, to protect the taxpayers' interests," Thompson said, "and if I let the roads completely deteriorate, then I have failed in my duties."

Roads have a useful life of 15-20 years during which they require only minimal maintenance. If that maintenance is taken care of, then costs stay low. But after that point, road failures are likely and replacement becomes necessary.

"And the reconstructions, the cost to do that, as opposed to taking care of it on the front end, is just obscene," Thompson said.

He added, "There's lots of work that needs to be done, lots of work that has been deferred, and unless we start chipping away at it, there's no other way to take care of it. There's just not."

Griswold suggests that funds for street maintenance should come from the city's budget.

"I'm thinking that the city can try to manage with the tax base," Griswold said. "Do it with the money they're getting."

Thompson maintains that the fee is absolutely necessary.

"…People think that there is money that just is not there," Thompson said.

The city does receive state funds from gas taxes in the amount of approximately $500,000 per year. Thompson explained that the amount is enough to replace just one street.

Griswold's petition has been accepted at the state level and has been passed down to the city. He has until Feb. 9, just two weeks, to obtain signatures from 10 percent of Molalla's registered voters, or about 558 signatures. Griswold's goal is 600.

"I just hope to see as many of Molalla residents as possible, for and against," Griswold said. "I'm open to anybody and everybody's conversation on this referendum specifically. I just look forward to this process, and I hope to see a positive result from this, whichever way it goes."

For more information on the referendum, people can visit the newly established Facebook page, MolallaREF.

Kristen Wohlers
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