Central Point will keep transportation utility fee

CENTRAL POINT — Council members voted Thursday to continue charging a $5 monthly transportation utility fee to ensure streets are maintained and improved until state gas taxes increase or the city finds an alternate source of revenue.

The utility fee, which also collects between $20 and $100 from businesses, was passed in March 2007 to cover a massive shortage in the city's streets budget.

The utility fee was passed with a three-year "sunset clause," and officials said at the time it viewed the measure as a short-term fix. But after re-evaluating the city's street funding needs, city officials said Thursday that the city's economic picture had changed very little and the prospect of additional funds from the state or federal level are unlikely, making it necessary to continue the fee.

Interim Public Works Director Matt Samitore told the council Thursday that, with nearly $450,000 a year coming from the utility fee, the "street fund cannot withstand not having the street utility fee."

Such a reduction in the budget, he noted, would require staff reductions and prevent needed repairs and improvements to streets.

Council member Matt Stephenson, who called the fee a "necessary evil" three years ago, agreed to extend the fee another three years despite reservations about keeping a fee in place that was approved as short-term.

Council member Bruce Dingler also voiced concerns about promising a sunset clause and then extending the fee, but said he understood the city's predicament.

Council member Mike Quilty, who chairs the region's Metropolitan Planning Organization, geared at establishing regional transportation goals, warned that it was becoming "more and more important" for cities to come up with transportation dollars other than from the state in order to make cities eligible for grants that require matching funds.

The city has entertained the idea of a gas tax a handful of times in recent years but has been unable to garner support.

City revenues from state gas-tax funds have remained stagnant since 1992, while the cost to maintain and repair roadways has nearly doubled.

City Administrator Phil Messina said Samitore would draft a resolution regarding the fee to be brought before the city council, possibly in August.

A public hearing will not be scheduled specifically regarding the fee, but public comment will be permitted when the issue is discussed.

Buffy Pollock is a writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.

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