Roseburg’s handling of transportation fees demonstrated the hazards of ignoring an 800-pound gorilla.
Eventually, the gorilla breaks loose, forcing quick rather than deliberative decisions.
In this case, the City Council was finally confronted last week with the beastly truth: The city would have to adopt unreasonably high transportation fees to raise $17 million over the next 20 years.
The city estimates it will take $26 million over the next two decades keep the street system adequate. A consultant calculated that developers should be responsible for about two-thirds of that amount because of the growth they bring.
Since the city has collected only $1.6 million in transportation fees over the past decade, the obvious question all along was: How much must the fees be raised?
Until last week, the question was avoided by an emphasis on changes in how the fees will be calculated and other complexities.
The council wisely asked for some real-life examples of how the new fees would compare to current fees.
The numbers were startling. In all eight cases presented by city staff, the fees would have been, or would be in the case of two pending developments, three to nine times higher.
The council wisely balked when it saw real numbers. It accepted the changes in how fees are calculated, but set the fees at a level that might raise $4.5 million over the next two decades, assuming steady population growth. That’s $2.25 million a decade, or not much more than the $1.6 million that’s been collected over the past slow-growth decade.
It’s conceivable that the new rates will raise less money than the old rates, probably not what the city originally had in mind.
Let’s hope the city finds an alternative to funding street improvements before councilors feel pressure to raise transportation fees.
The fees, formally known as “system development charges,” are a tax on economic development, which nearly all candidates for nearly all offices claim to embrace as their top priority.
The tax doesn’t even have the benefit of being fair. Fees are based on how many vehicles are expected to come and go from a home or business during peak-hour afternoon traffic. The owner of a drive-through coffee shop pays more per square foot than a manufacturer, even though factories, not coffee kiosks, spur population growth.
City officials argue the condition of the economy drives development and that transportation fees are incidental.
Tell that to the fledgling small business, especially one with a drive-up window, like a fast-food restaurant, or one that depends on a high volume of in-and-out customers, like a convenience store.
Taxing growth might be popular in fast-growing cities. This is hardly the case in Roseburg. A City Council candidate who ran on a no-growth platform couldn’t get elected.
By the way, one excellent plank of a no-growth platform would be higher transportation fees.