The city of Pendleton is at a crossroads when it comes to streets and infrastructure.
After half a century of lackluster infrastructure planning and maintenance due to lack of funding, evidenced by miles of degraded roads around town and the unseen aging pipes underneath, the city administration is now desperate to play catch-up. For every year that goes by without this routine repair work, the problems become more expensive to fix.
And just as visible as the cracks and potholes is the pristine Barnhart Road extension, completed more than a decade ago with hopes of ushering in a new wave of industrial development. That hasn’t materialized, and both the road and fuel tax that paid for it have become an easy target for critics.
This figurative road has led the current council and administration to a difficult place, where it must answer residents’ concerns about failing streets while addressing the still-pressing need for future development. Both are necessary.
During a council workshop last week, Mayor John Turner reiterated the demand for road repairs as citizens’ top concern.
“We’re going to fix it,” he said, “but it isn’t going to be free and it’s not going to be cheap.”
Meanwhile, the city is moving its eggs from the Airport Road Industrial Park basket to the UAS Range Industrial Park basket, approving $11.2 million for development of hangars and utilities to stoke what it believes is the economic future. In both projects, the city needs citizen support. It may be a big ask for those trying to shake the feeling of déjà vu.
As far as the failing infrastructure, there have been a bevy of ideas — some good, some bad — for how to fix it. While we’re always up for some creativity when it comes to solving problems, it’s hard to imagine a ticket surcharge or restaurant tax bringing in enough cash annually to cover the $1 million or so in additional funding without being disproportionately onerous on citizens.
While keeping an open mind to brainstorms, the city should figure out a way to leverage its ever-growing status as a tourism hub to help cover the cost. A fuel tax, while deeply opposed by distributors and viewed with skepticism by citizens, does have the benefit of charging road users with road upkeep. It also brings in money from visitors during the busy summer months, and a seasonal fuel tax would make the most of those prime travel months. An additional hotel surcharge could help fill the coffer, as we’re all used to paying those additional dollars when traveling to other destinations.
Meanwhile, up at the airport, the city must find a way to secure buy-in from the companies it is counting on to lift it into the future. The city has played the good host for years now, courting high-tech companies interested in finding the best spot to test the next wave of aviation technology. Before spending millions of local dollars to expand their testing grounds, it should pursue concrete assurances of long-term partnerships. The city will never have a better bargaining chip than it does right now, on the precipice of investing millions, and before cashing it in we should know with certainty what will be coming back.
Whether it’s a long-term contract, cost-sharing for development or system development charges, the city should be able to show with certainty that the investment will at the very least be returned, if not multiplied. It’s time to begin transitioning from public investment to private.
There are many roads from here as the city tries to address past mistakes while avoiding creating future problems. We’re pleased that the city council is open to suggestions and hope they hear out citizens with concerns that we’ve been here before.