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Man seeks grassroots road solution

A member of the Wasco County Roads Advisory Committee is hoping a grass roots effort will succeed where an official county process couldn’t in finding a funding formula for road maintenance local residents will accept.

Dennis James of The Dalles has invited people interested in roads to an unofficial meeting Thursday, Aug. 28, at 5:30 p.m. at Dufur City Park, hoping people who care about county roads can find “an agenda we can move ahead with,” James wrote in a letter to The Chronicle published Aug. 19. He asked the group to gather near the pool.

James, who owns a local welding fabrication and repair business, said he was the only member of the advisory committee who volunteered, rather than being recruited by the county commission.

“I was kind of the only one who said, ‘Gee, this is not a good thing to be taxing one group of people, especially so heavily,’” James said. “Everybody didn’t disagree, but they were all after a faster track.”

James is proposing a more diversified way of collecting revenue from all the road users including hunters, farmers and other user groups.

“Some of this stuff could take a couple of years,” he said. “Every year we wait to do this is another year it’s going to take. I’ve pursued it through our reps, like John Huffman, and they’re happy to talk to me, but when only one person calls it’s ‘Thanks, bye bye.’”

The first proposal, a tax initially estimated at $2.03 per thousand dollars of assessed property value did not move forward after strong opposition at a series of hearings throughout the county. Opponents complained about the cost and that the City of The Dalles had opted out of the plan due to tax compression issues. A majority of the Wasco County Board of Commissioners decided not to push the issue to the ballot.

James thinks the issue is of statewide significance, pointing to road concerns in Multnomah and other counties. He would like to see the problem solved at the state level. Some of his ideas would require local changes. James thinks a portion of landfill fees to the county ought to go directly to the road fund since heavy garbage trucks add a lot of wear and tear to the roads.

He also thinks the 15 miles of roads currently maintained by the county within city limits, including West 10th Street, should be accepted by the city, even though they do not meet city development standards.

He also said more belt-tightening might be necessary if the county can’t secure the full $1.6 million more the roads department estimates it needs to maintain roads in good condition.

James consulted with Marty Matherly of the county roads department and Chuck Covert, chair of the roads advisory committee, before calling the meeting, and said he got the basic response “Do what you can.”

“We’re all just trying to get something moving to protect our roads here,” he said.

Matherly said James spent a lot of time with the committee doing research.

“There are some items that he felt strong about and wanted to see if there is any way of getting these thoughts out and making headway getting money from his ideas,” Matherly said.

The committee took a rational approach to looking for an immediate solution where the need is, in Wasco County, Matherly said.

“Dennis’ approach is more of a long-range effort,” he said. “If he does get the legislature and lobbyists to start looking at this, it’s going to take quite a while to get done. And I’m not sure how much revenue it’s going to generate.”

The same is true of bills in Congress now to try to allow more logging in the federal forests.

Matherly commended James on his efforts. He also noted that the county could benefit some from increases in state and federal gas taxes, depending on the size of the increases and the formula for distribution.

“The gas tax funding source is out there and can be used for counties and that’s why we’re all looking at it,” Matherly said. “But we’re still looking for different funding sources all the time.”

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