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Wasco county seeks public input on road budget

Citizens will soon have a chance to air their views about how Wasco County should handle the upcoming shortfall in its road budget.

The Roads Advisory Committee is planning to take its show on the road to service clubs, board meetings and a yet-to-be-scheduled public meeting or two.

“We want to show everyone who’s interested where we’ve been, where we’re at and where we’re headed,” said Chuck Covert, the committee’s chairman.

He told the Wasco County Board of Commissioners during its April 17 meeting that there are plenty of facts that residents don’t know about road funding — for instance, that roads are funded through the state gas tax and federal forest receipts instead of property taxes.

“A lot of people think that the roads should be maintained because they pay taxes, and I’m not saying that’s not how it should be, but that’s not where their taxes go,” Covert said.

He said the presentation will also educate people on the pros and cons of options like using the emergency fund to make up for the first year of the shortfall or contracting out road maintenance.

Covert showed commissioners the presentation that the committee plans to start giving around the county, which starts with a brief history of how the county has gone from $3.75 million of road revenue in 2006 to $2.5 million for the upcoming 2013-2014 budget. The shortfall comes from an end to the timber receipts, which were meant to make up for lost revenue after concerns for the spotted owl halted timber harvests.

Covert said during the “safety net” period the “pavement condition index” rating for county roads was an average of 85 out of 100. That rating has already slipped to 80 and Covert said it will continue to go down as roads deteriorate. For reference he showed photos of roads like Dufur Valley Road (a 95) and Hostetler Street (a 68).

“Our roads are in pretty good shape, but we’re not going to continue to see that because of the maintenance schedule we currently have,” Covert said, noting that there has already been a 30 percent reduction in staff as the federal payments lessened every year.

Commissioner Scott Hege said he would be interested to see the presentation include funding history from back when there was “real dollars from real activity” in federal forests.

“If we could just get back into the federal forests, maybe not at the same level, but the dollars coming in would not be a federal handout, and jobs would be created,” he said.

Covert said the important part of the presentation is the end, when the roads advisory committee will discuss the county’s options with those present, solicit new ideas and ask for feedback about what citizens will prefer.

The county wants to know if citizens would rather find the revenue to maintain current service levels (through options like a county gas tax, bicycle tax, road district, levy or county vehicle registration fees) or reduce service (through options like converting failing pavement to gravel, reducing snow and emergency response capabilities, or stopping maintenance on certain roads).

Covert said he hopes people will give the county feedback at the planned public presentations because the committee is sincerely looking for input.

“What it boils down to is, what proposal will have the best chance of success?” he said.

Covert can be reached at 541-296-8277 or NAPATD@gorge.net. Other road committee members are Sherry Holliday, John Fulton, Keith Mobley, Ken Polehn, Dan Crouse, Dave Cooper, Paul Kuehnl, Dennis James, Phil Kaser and Marty Matherly.

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