The Albany City Council directed city staff members on Monday to gather information on how nearby municipalities generate revenue, specifically with an eye on finding money to repair and maintain its streets.
“This isn’t a new topic for us,” said Public Works Engineering and Community Development Director Jeff Blaine.
Blaine told councilors at a council work session that city staffers already had been talking about the issue with members of local service clubs. Now, he said, the staffers were asking the council for the next steps to take.
“It’s more cost-effective to maintain streets than to wait for them to fail,” he said, noting that the most recent data the city had from 2017 showed a need for a $20 million, one-time investment in repairing failed roads and $5 million annually to maintain them.
“There are no easy solutions,” Blaine said. “If streets are going to be a priority, there are going to be a lot of difficult conversations for council.”
A 3 cent per gallon local fuel tax was rejected by voters in May 2018, but Blaine said the council could consider it again. He also suggested splitting franchise fees — which currently go to the general fund — between the general fund and the street fund. These franchise fees are paid by companies such as Republic Services and Comcast for the right to access city services such as rights of way.
Blaine suggested a task force to study the issue, citing the need for community support in whatever option the council chose.
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Mayor Sharon Konopa said a task force would delay the process and the city would still need to conduct public outreach on whatever solution the task force ultimately came up with. She suggested that staff collect various funding models from nearby cities for the council to consider.
Blaine said it was his personal opinion that a utility or transportation fee, to be paid by residents, eventually would have to be part of the conversation. Konopa agreed, noting that the city already is contending with funding issues.
Councilman Bill Coburn said any attempt to raise taxes would be difficult.
“You can go door-to-door and people will say they pay their taxes and now you want them to pay more,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough sell.”
Konopa said the city had two options: consider new revenue sources or continue making cuts.
“We have to educate the public that property taxes don’t fully fund the public safety,” she said.