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Street funding falls short in The Dalles

The City of The Dalles is looking for a way to pare back costly street repairs by taking steps to preserve pavement before it deteriorates.

Nolan Young, city manager, said about 46 percent of local streets need to be worked on after 10 years of deferring maintenance costs due to budget constraints.

“We need to get back on a preventative maintenance plan and get caught up with the backlog,” he said.

Young said the worst situation in The Dalles is the unstable embankment along the portion of East Scenic Drive that is in a landslide zone. City officials are worried that the continued shifting of ground will eventually destroy underground utilities and the roadway in the area. If a catastrophic failure of the embankment were to occur between the 600 to 900 blocks, homes on the north side of the street could be severely damaged or destroyed.

Young said the city is seeking to change its strategy for street work to make sure funding goes as far as possible. An example of how costs can rise when roadways deteriorate is laid out in statistics compiled by the City of Bedford in Texas. On a per-lane mile basis, the cost of preventative care was $10,270 and rose to $45,570 for rehabilitation and then jumped to $574,000 when reconstruction was required.

The city currently generates about $450,000 per year from the 3-cent-per-gallon local gas tax for roadwork, according to Young. Another $810,000 is received from state gas tax funds, as well as those from vehicle registrations and weight mileage fees. An additional $260,000 is derived from a 3 percent charge to the water and sewer funds for damage caused by work in utility line trenches that cross city streets.

On April 1, Young joined city council and budget committee members on a bus tour of problematic streets. After spending about 90 minutes on the road, the council and committee members were shown a PowerPoint that provided options to raise revenue for street improvements.

Potential new funding sources include using $87,000 from of Northwest Natural Gas franchise fees for street maintenance needs instead of placing that money in the general fund for pay operational expenses.

Another $90,953 could be accessed from the street light fund and possibly replaced by imposing a utility bill for that service, similar to the charge for storm water maintenance.

If the city adopts a telecom tax of 7 percent, another $180,000 could be raised each year. Also to be given consideration in the future is increasing the current 3 percent franchise fees charged Northern Wasco County People’s Utility District and Chenowith Water Public Utility District. Each one-half percent increase from the former could generate an additional $115,000 per year, with $28,000 more per year for the latter.

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