While some members of the Pendleton City Council referred to a report on the city’s street funding system as an “efficiency review,” the “transportation funding analysis” Jensen Strategies did produce focused more on contextualizing Pendleton’s street funding than doing a deep dive into whether the city is spending each dollar wisely.
On the recommendation of Councilor Scott Fairley, the city paid the Portland consultant $9,315 to help the city figure out how to best boost its road funding.
Released Thursday, the analysis revealed that Pendleton uses many of the same funding mechanisms other similar-sized cities use, but the quality of its street system is further behind.
The city council is already well versed in the poor overall quality of its roads.
A 2018 pavement condition report showed that the city’s pavement condition index — a metric that assesses road quality on a 1-100 scale — fell seven points from a score of 68 in 2015 and unless the city bumped its annual street maintenance budget from $825,000 to $1.6 million, it wouldn’t be able to reverse the trend.
But even though the city has made efforts in recent years to raise revenue for streets, it’s falling behind its peers.
Jensen Strategies compared Pendleton street funding to other communities with similar populations and characteristics: Hermiston, La Grande, Baker City, Klamath Falls, Redmond, and Prineville.
Compared to the group, Pendleton’s 61 pavement condition index score was the worst of the bunch, although Hermiston’s score did not include the quality of neighborhood roads.
And despite coming in dead last, the $38,199 Pendleton will spend per centerline mile for road maintenance for the 2018-19 fiscal year is the second most after Hermiston.
The maintenance cost per centerline mile could be higher than other cities for a variety of reasons, Jensen Strategies wrote, including topography, cost of material and bidding climate.
For instance, Klamath Falls is able to keep its maintenance costs way down because of a good relationship with the only construction aggregate supplier in the area and an agreement with Klamath County that has the county maintaining some of the roads in city limits.
But according to Jensen Strategies, the biggest contributor to Pendleton’s high maintenance costs is its low pavement condition index score. The lower the score, the more expensive it is to try to bring roads back into good condition.
Even with the difference in statistics, the analysis states that all the cities in the study approached street funding in the same way, relying on a state gas tax money while supplementing it with another source of local revenue.
Cities have different revenue generators: Hermiston raised its franchise fee rate to 7 percent and dedicated one-third of it to street maintenance while La Grande uses a street utility fee.
Other cities would transfer a sizeable amount of money for their general fund, which is often used for services like public safety and parks, to street maintenance.
The council approved a street utility fee that generates $425,000 per year in 2015, but it came on the heels of voters rejecting a 5-cent gas tax that was supposed to complement it.
The city could make some cuts to other municipal departments and send the savings to the street maintenance funds, but City Manager Robb Corbett said it would involve measures like selling the Vert Auditorium, slashing the city’s contribution to public art, and cutting the economic development fund.
Jensen Strategies wrote that the city could take a similar approach to the city of Milwaukie, which passed a street funding revenue package in 2006 that included a low street utility fee, a gas tax, and a 1.5 percent “privilege tax” on electric bills.
In an interview Friday, Corbett said the franchise fee idea was interesting but he was skeptical that it would pass muster with the state’s franchise fee caps.
Additionally, Jensen Strategies said Pendleton’s franchise fees are already relatively high.
The council will talk about the report at a workshop Tuesday, a discussion that will also include debate on how to bring the city to $1.2 million in annual street funding for the next budget cycle, a number that consultants have determined will stop the city’s roads from deteriorating further.
The meeting will be at the council chambers annex in city hall, 500 S.W. Dorion Ave., Tuesday at 7 p.m.