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Possible license-tab fee could help pay for Kenmore road improvements

Supporters say their goal is to improve local roadways and add sidewalks.

And in order to pay for those improvements, Kenmore City Council is debating a $20 per-vehicle license-tab fee that would be paid by all city residents.

According to information released by the city, the fee would raise about $346,200 a year, or $3.4 million over 10 years.

“If we do anything like that, it will go to a vote of the people,” vowed Kenmore Mayor David Baker.

Under state law, if it chose to do so, Kenmore Council can impose the fee on its own with no public vote, or could consider the public vote an “advisory” vote and impose the fees regardless of the outcome of any election.

Again, according to information supplied by the city, some road-projects fees it could fund might include:

• Arterial asphalt overlays, at a cost over 10 years of $2.1 million.

• A traffic signal at 61st Avenue Northeast and Northeast 181st. Cost: $1.3 million.

To impose the fee, under state rules, Kenmore would need to hold a public hearing and create a transportation benefit district, a taxing authority which could then tackle the fee issue. Kenmore officials would be taking advantage of a recent change in state law that broadens the rules attached to those districts.

Baker and other officials said having drivers pay for road improvements through license fees seems fair.

“To me, that just makes sense,” said Deputy Mayor Milton Curtis.

Like Baker, Curtis said many of Kenmore’s roads were built to meet rural, not urban or even suburban, standards. He said what Kenmore now spends on its roads seems to be enough to maintain those roads at their current level, but is not sufficient to fund any improvements.

Both Baker and Curtis talked a lot about calls for sidewalks throughout the city.

“This is one way to do that,” Baker said regarding the tab fees.

“We have to come up with money from somewhere or admit we are going to leave the streets as they are,” Curtis said.

Councilman John Hendrickson quickly came out against the fees, but said he assumes council is going to act in favor of the tab tax.

At the direction of legislators, city staff is preparing an ordinance creating a benefit district and imposing the fees. The measure will then be brought before council for consideration. Hendrickson put the cost for that exercise at about $20,000.

“They say they haven’t made up their minds yet, but when you spend $20,000, you know you’re going to do it,” Hendrickson said of moving forward with the fees.

As he has in the past, Hendrickson is once again charging the city will be running at a deficit because of dollars it needs to put into its roads. He claims recent budget projections did not take into account any dollars for road maintenance.

“It’s undisciplined, it’s not an objective analysis of our financial position,” Hendrickson said.

According to Hendrickson’s figures, the city’s red ink could amount to up to $5.7 million over time.

Both Baker and Curtis said Hendrickson’s calculations are based on what they characterized as a flawed study of Kenmore’s roads.

According to Curtis, the study included improvements to State Route 522. He added that since the roadway does not belong to the city, the cost of maintaining it is not the city’s to carry.

Curtis also said the study may have overestimated just how much work Kenmore’s streets require. The report calls for the complete replacement of many streets. But Curtis said city staff feels up to 80 percent of those roadways can be fixed with a far less expensive overlay program.

While Baker came out in favor of the fees and offered a hope residents would support such a move, he insisted Kenmore’s roads are in reasonable condition as is.

“We could be putting more money into our streets,” he said. “But I think they are in pretty good shape.”

Hendrickson said some councilmembers are trying to distract attention away from budget problems.

“The council is changing the subject,” he said.

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