While the Pendleton City Council continues to make headway toward a modest boost in funding next year, a path toward a long-term solution for the city’s road maintenance woes could be as much as two months away.
The council met Tuesday for a workshop, where councilors expressed frustration over a lack of movement on the issue.
One of their targets was a recently released transportation funding analysis prepared by a Portland consultant.
“I don’t need a score to know when I’m going down a road, I gotta lock down my hubs to get through it,” Councilor Paul Chalmers said. “And that’s disheartening to me.”
The city hired Jensen Strategies to analyze its road system. The consultant compared Pendleton to public street systems in Hermiston, La Grande, Prineville, Redmond, and Klamath Falls and concluded that Pendleton had the worst pavement condition index — a metric that measures street quality on a 1-100 scale — but spent the second-most money per centerline mile on road maintenance.
But city officials picked apart some of the information shared in the report.
Public Works Director Bob Patterson said some of the cities used different pavement rating methods that might bring down their overall score.
And Councilor McKennon McDonald said it might be unfair to compare Pendleton’s street system to others because Pendleton had unique issues.
City Manager Robb Corbett said Pendleton wouldn’t be able to replicate many of the methods other cities used to bolster road funding.
A former Prineville city manager, Corbett said the Central Oregon city can afford to transfer a significant amount from its general fund to street maintenance because of the revenue it receives from Facebook and Apple data centers.
And although Hermiston raised its franchise fees to supplement its road funding, Pendleton’s franchise fees are already maxed out.
Councilor Scott Fairley was also disappointed in the Jensen Strategies report because he thought it would take a more comprehensive look at whether the city was spending money on roads efficiently.
Councilor Carole Innes said the council couldn’t return to the issue in six months still not having done anything.
“We’d look pretty ineffective,” she said.
The council could take some action on the issue in the late spring when members pass a budget for the new fiscal year.
Corbett refined a proposal that he originally made as a part of a January budget exercise that aimed to boost street funding without raising taxes or fees.
Corbett’s new calculation no longer includes selling the Vert, which it helps offset with reductions to equipment replacement and materials and supplies in the street fund.
There would still be a hit to the general fund, but certain services like economic development, city decorations, public art, and insurance for the senior center would be reduced instead of axed completely.
All of these savings combined with others would help the city generate $1.2 million per year for street maintenance, but that may not be enough.
Although a 2018 pavement condition report states that at least $1.1 million would keep the pavement condition flat over the next 10 years, the city has calculated that it would take $3.5 million to keep the blacklog of deferred maintenance from growing.
It would take $4.1 million per year to wipe away all the deferred maintenance, raising Pendleton’s pavement score from 61 to 84.
Fairley challenged the council to think bigger.
“This $1.2 (million) goal essentially says we are endorsing building our maintenance backlog, we are endorsing a failing street system,” he said. “It sounds well and good to say we should stage it, but we’re doing our taxpayers and citizens a huge disservice by continuing to build up this deferred maintenance backlog. If my rough estimates are right, it’s over $1,000 a day we add in deferred maintenance just by talking about this stuff.”
Corbett said he could work with staff to come up with a recommendation on long-term funding for road maintenance, but it would likely take them eight weeks before they could present it to the council.