Would You Pay A Vehicle License Tab Fee To Help Fix Burien's Roads?

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by Ralph Nichols

Will $10 – or $20 – vehicle license tab fees be coming to Burien soon?

City council members agree that an ongoing street maintenance program is needed – beginning soon – to keep Burien’s streets in good condition and to avoid the far costlier process of rebuilding them later.

They also concur, reluctantly, that with a pared-down city budget, which has put asphalt-overlay projects on hold for the last two years, the only way to pay for it is with a special revenue package just for roads.

But no sitting city council can tell future councils how to spend money, and that reality concerns this group of lawmakers. They want to insure that all special revenue for roads goes, without exception, to roads and isn’t tapped for other programs in the future.

With this in mind, council members moved closer on April 12 to giving a green light to a Transportation Benefit District (TBD) in Burien that would help pay for the asphalt overlay program – and perhaps provide some matching funds for a freeway off-ramp to the Northeast Redevelopment Area as well.

Revenue raised through TBD license tab fees can be used only for the transportation purposes designated when the district was created.

With 35,745 registered vehicles in Burien, including newly annexed North Burien, which will be included in the proposed 20-year asphalt overlay program, a $20 fee would generate an estimated $636,966 annually, a $10 fee $381,483, and a $5 fee $159,242, City Finance Director Tabatha Miller told lawmakers.

Proposed by City Manager Mike Martin and Public Works Director Larry Blanchard, the ambitious program would cost $19.4 million over the next 20 years. Without it, they have said, streets will deteriorate and require repairs that cost 5 to 10 times as much routine maintenance.

An asphalt overlay of just 2 inches can keep a good street in good condition, Blanchard noted. That is the aim of this plan, which would maintain Burien’s road system at an average Pavement Condition Index of 80 percent. Currently, city streets average 68 percent on that index.

The program, as proposed to the council, would cost Burien $8.6 million to upgrade those streets that are in the worst condition, yet can still be upgraded with overlays, during the balance of 2010 and in 2011. Beginning in 2012, the ongoing overlay program would continue at a cost of $600,000 annually.

By contrast, the cost of completely rebuilding deteriorated streets is around $231 million at current construction costs, Blanchard added.

Miller has recommended paying for the maintenance project with Build America Bonds with annual bond payments of $650,000. She said the total investment including bond payments from 2010 forward would cost the city $1.25 million.

Based on her initial suggestions for additional revenue sources, combined with priorities recommended by council members on March 29, most of the annual $1.25 million payment could come from $750,000 in operating savings with the city assuming surface water management and transportation services from King County, $100,000 in property tax from the Capital Reserve Fund, $100,000 in Seattle City Light in-lieu fees.

The remaining $300,000 could come from annual $10 license tab fees established by a TBD.

Councilman Brian Bennett wondered what the new residents in North Burien think about the proposed fees, and then asked if it is possible to reduce the estimated cost by reducing the scope of the asphalt-overlay program.

While costs always can be reduced, Martin replied, the corresponding reduced maintenance will result in the gradual deterioration of some streets.

Mayor Joan McGilton likened this approach to applying a coat of primer to a house without adding the main coat of paint. That, added Blanchard, would push the higher costs of rebuilding roads onto future users of city streets.

Councilman Jack Block Jr. expressed concern about the lack of an inflation factor in the 20-year cost projection, which Blanchard said was left out to avoid complicating the calculations. But, he suggested, the same inflationary factors that would increase long-range costs would also increase projected revenues.

Block also said while a $10 license tab fee would be a “reasonable cost,” $20 could be too much because “people are having issues right now. We need to be cautious in the fees we ask the citizens to pay.”

SW 158th between Ambaum Blvd. and First Ave South.

Although Councilman Gordon Shaw said he liked “the program before us with $10 car tab fees,” another $10 could be used in the future toward an off-ramp that would serve the Northeast Redevelopment Area. “This would get more land into [commercial] production to generate the additional taxes” the city needs, he noted.

Other council members also indicated support for using some car-tab revenue for such an off-ramp. And Councilwoman Lucy Krakowiak endorsed using a $20 fee to pay for asphalt overlays with leftover funds going to the off-ramp.

Martin informed council members that license tab fees could be designated for the off-ramp as well as for the overlay program at the time a TBD is established.

So…what do YOU think? Please take our Poll below, or leave a Comment…

Would you pay a special vehicle license tax to improve Burien's streets?

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19 Responses to “Would You Pay A Vehicle License Tab Fee To Help Fix Burien's Roads?”
  1. Michael says:

    Maybe my view is skewed, but I consider roads part of the basic infrastructure that I expect a city to provide. Police, Fire, Roads, School, Sewer, Water, etc. And to my way of thinking, the city should pay for those basic infrastructure items FIRST out of their budget. Same as you and I would.

    If there’s money left over after paying for the basic infrastructure, then you can fund special projects above and beyond the basics. And if you don’t have money left over, THEN you can ask taxpayers if they feel strongly enough about it to kick in extra in taxes for anything beyond the basics.

    Instead, most governments seem to work the opposite way, frittering away tax dollars on everything but the basics and then coming to taxpayers wringing their hands, telling us how awful things are going to be if we don’t pony up the extra cash to paper over their mismanagement of our budget.

    You’d think voters would catch on to this tactic eventually, but it doesn’t seem to happen.

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  2. napavine says:

    Are you kidding? We have enough money to pay for hanging flower basket maintance, but do not have funds for roads. This is just a small piece of the fat that could be trimmed if the council was motivated to cut cost. Instead they use Police, Fire, & roads to justify more tax. Stay out of my wallet. Your worse than my kids!

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  3. TcB says:

    I just can’t stand the idea of paying that $20 for years of road improvements and to keep from spending far more in the future. I have two Dominos pizzas to buy.

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  4. Samantha says:

    Agree with all of the above…. Normandy park has no problem building 3million dollar sidewalks… what’s up with Burien?

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  5. 3TreeCellars says:

    I’m not opposed to user based fees as is being proposed, but somebody needs to check their math. 35,745 registered vehicles x $20 = $714,900, not $636,966. Likewise, the math for the other fee levels doesn’t make sense.

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    • Ralph Nichols says:

      Your math is correct and, that noted, I am responsible for the resulting confusion. The city in estimating revenue from license tab fees reduced projected receipts as a precaution against ending up with actual revenues below projections.

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  6. citizen says:

    How about the 1.5 million spent on a TEMPORARY facility to house the Parks Dept. The City Council has way too many pet projects. Who is responsible for stopping the overlay project ….THE BURIEN CITY COUNCIL..and why??? money needed for their pet projects….NO NEW TAXES is my new theme….. vote the irresponsible ones out….ALL OF THEM….

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  7. Coverofnight says:

    I, too, agree with all the comments above. Additionally, I bet that once that “District” is set up for taxing, we’ll see more taxes put in place for other “transportation” items……like red-light cameras to pick our pockets even more! As Michael and others have stated, let’s stick to the basics and get rid of these pet projects! However, I do like the hanging baskets of flowers….:)

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  8. MsPp says:

    YES!!! Vote them all out. Especially the ones that think they know more than the voters.

    This is another example of our city leaders incompetence. When road maintenance was made a lower priority and the money spent elsewhere, one would think the council would have had a plan as to how road maintenance would be funded. Because roads are basic infrastructure. And maintenance requires funding. That funding must be included in the basic budget. If you ignore it – it doesn’t go away. There is no reason that the city should be needing to generate additional funds to pay for basic needs. I will license my vehicles at a relatives address in another city to avoid any additional tax set by the council.

    Maybe we shouldn’t have annexed more people/area if we can afford to take care of what we already have. The new annexation certainly isn’t going to bring anything to the city except a huge draw on social services.

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  9. Rob says:

    I have to say thay I tend to agree. Didn’t we just vote down a TBD fee for bike lanes on 8th ave south? Perhaps the city council needs to get back to old fashioned values like living within a budget.

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  10. Lisa B. says:

    I agree with those above who have stated that this is basic infrastructure and one of a few top priorities of government. The way things are going we are going to turn into Seattle with their stupid bag and latte tax ideas. I mean, you can ask us for the money, but then who do we get to turn around and ask? The buck always stops with us and it’s getting a little old. The city can do the same thing we have to do and go figure it out on their own, that’s what we elect them to do.

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  11. Rainycity says:

    No,, I would not support a tax increase on vehicle license tabs to fix the roads, (they wouldn`t use it for that anyways)
    Just because the town council can`t get their shit together,,
    Any way they can UN-annex us????? This crap is already getting old.
    What are the revenues from the red light cameras for??
    Paying for more of the town councils pet desires?

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  12. John says:

    If it were one tax here or there it might be ok. But it seems every government entity looks to the citizen to pony up their hard earned moneis to fix the problems of the government.

    I am tried of being asked and arm-twisted to accept this or that tax. When every entity comes for my money I’ll have nothing left over to buy the things that support the city.

    I know people want nice things in their city, but there has to be a better way of raising funds over taxing everyone. You know that when you tax something it never goes back the other way once the need for the tax is complete. Have you haver seen the city or government have a law to reduce taxes? Haven’t seen that in a very long time if at all. And if it did, probably due to some high-pressure arm-twisting in the other direction.

    I say let government run itself and leave people’s money alone.

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  13. citizen says:

    The city has a new house ……the parks dept. has a new house..We get crappy roads with potholes….We the citizens have been told this is ALL Good……Repair the roads with existing tax money OR sell the New House !!!! Move back into your Rental House…

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  14. Fran says:

    What about sewers? Fix the roads when half of Burien is still using septic tanks? North East Burien is one big cess pool. Pretty gross! (Probably why the NERA Project isn’t moving along)

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  15. concerned citizen says:

    Here goes team Kent moving into Burien and raising taxes.

    The city has a decent overlay budget, about $425,000 a year. In 2009 the acting public works director “postponed” the overlay program so the money could be used for drawings and plans. These drawings and plans were required by the feds to apply for stimulus money. The idea was spend, or gamble, $425,000 now with a chance at millions later. Guess what, no stimulus money was awarded to Burien.

    The overlay program for 2010 has also been “postponed”, although it is unclear why. The city is in the process of hiring a small street and stormwater crew along with purchasing several pieces of equipment.

    Now team Kent goes to council and says hey lets add a $20 per vehicle license tab fee. Lets not forget that they also want to raise the pse usage fee from 3% to 6% a month. Then in a year or two ask council to again raise tabs by another $20 and raise usage fees on another utility.

    Now I’m all for safe streets, but it seems to me if they would just use the money they already have designated for overlay, they wouldn’t need to raise taxes.

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  16. Coverofnight says:

    Right on to everyone’s comments above! Does anyone know if any of our elected officials read this blog? Hopefully, the editor emails a link to each and every one of them!

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  17. SD says:

    “But no sitting city council can tell future councils how to spend money, and that reality concerns this group of lawmakers.”

    So does this mean the current city council had no control over how our tax dollars were allocated?

    Or does the city council not want future councils to make the same mistake they did?

    I’m not sure I understand why an additional tax is necessary to support the City of Burien’s basic infrastructure, especially given the questionable spending that others have address in this blog.

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  18. Gorfsnopple says:

    Could you consider not spending money you don’t have to fund things we don’t need?

    I have an idea…don’t annex a part of the county that you can afford…oh wait…

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