Pendleton City Council approves more money for streets, airport

The council boosted road funding for 2019-20, but not enough to reverse overall deterioration.

Pendleton City Council members past and present have long agreed that the city needs to put more money toward street maintenance, but building a political consensus around how to do it has proven to be much more difficult.

Acting as the Pendleton Development Commission, the council will get a chance to put its money where its mouth is when it considers a proposal to use $3 million from the urban renewal district toward maintaining and improving streets at a special meeting Tuesday.

City Manager Robb Corbett, who also acts as the commission’s executive director, said the money would act as a one-time expenditure for the upcoming 2019-20 fiscal year.

But the jury’s still out as to how the council will decide.

Councilor Becky Marks has been a longtime proponent of focusing the money that goes toward the urban renewal district, which spans the downtown Pendleton and the surrounding area, on projects that will boost the property tax base.

So when she first heard the idea that the city was considering using some of the commission’s budget for street funding, she wasn’t on board.

“My gut reaction was ‘No, that was not what urban renewal was designated for,’” she said.

Councilor Scott Fairley had a similar reaction, adding that one of the urban renewal district’s primary responsibilities was addressing blight, not street maintenance.

Fairley has been one of the most vocal members of the council to advocate for more funding for streets.

A 2018 pavement assessment report showed that Pendleton’s road quality continues to decline, and will continue to do so unless the city spends at least $1.6 million per year for street maintenance, which would start improving the overall quality of the street system.

Using revenue from the street utility fee and a transfer from the property tax-funded general fund on top its share of gas tax revenue, the city is set to spend more than $1.6 million on street maintenance in 2019-20.

But the city would have to spend that amount year-in and year-out to make a dent in improving road quality, and if the city wanted to eliminate the road maintenance backlog and bring every road into good condition, it would need to spend $4.1 million per year over the next decade.

In past meetings, Fairley has said that the council can’t be content to raise street funding enough to just stop the bleeding and members need to implement bold ideas to solve the problem.

But both Marks and Fairley said they’re going to reserve judgement on the $3 million urban renewal boost until they hear all the facts and public input.

Tuesday’s meeting comes amidst an ongoing effort from the council to poll the public on what kind of long-term revenue source it would find palatable to fund street maintenance.

Among the ideas the council has debated is a gas tax, a new hotel room tax, and a fee on event tickets.

Mayor John Turner has imposed a December deadline for a final proposal.

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