Gramson favors a gas tax. At 3 cents a gallon on the estimated 8,250,000 gallons consumed annually in Warrenton, the tax would raise $247,500. Those figures are based on results of a professional appraisal.
To raise equivalent funding through a road levy, Gramson said the city would need to increase property taxes for Warrenton residents by 85 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, which would cost the owner of a $200,000 home an additional $170 a year.
Warrenton is home to several gas stations, including the ones operated by the North Coast Fred Meyer and Costco. The cost of the gasoline consumption appraisal was shared with the city of Astoria, whose leaders are also considering a gas tax.
Warrenton has 18 miles of roads and a bridge, which are valued at $5 million or more, based on current replacement costs according to background information supplied to the Commission. Gramson said many roads were built in the 1950s and '60s and have never been improved. "We're so far behind - all you have to do is look at roads," Gramson said, mentioning Dolphin Road and Main Avenue as particularly in need of repair.
City Manager Ed Madere said Warrenton lacks resources for road repair. "The city struggles every year waiting for street tax (from the state)," Madere said. And when it arrives, it's not nearly enough for needed maintenance, he said.
The city receives $205,000 annually through state street tax, of which the majority goes for street lights, employee costs, equipment maintenance and fuel, leaving only about $20,000 for asphalt and rock. The city has to wait several years to accumulate enough funds for even minor street repairs and maintenance.
Gramson plans to hold a public forum, probably next month, to lay out the gas tax proposal and get input from residents before deciding how to proceed. Unlike a road levy, which requires voter approval, a gas tax could be implemented by ordinance.
Although all of the commissioners agreed that Warrenton's roads and streets are badly in need of repair, not all are sure a gas tax is the answer.
"I can understand the need for a fuel tax. I also understand it's a volatile subject," Commissioner Dick Hellberg said. He said he could only vote for a gas tax if he is sure the public understands it - and he wouldn't want to pay more than $20 a year for it. And he was adamant that the gas tax revenue be used only for streets, roads and adjacent sidewalks, and nothing else. Hellberg, a commercial fisherman, said he will be absent from Commission meetings during June and July.
Commissioner Mark Kujala said he won't support the gas tax until much more information is presented. Noting "there's a tax-weary public out there," which voted against every recent money measure statewide, Kujala said the city should highlight and prioritize projects, show how money raised by the tax would be spent and develop a long range vision before imposing the gas tax.
The city should win support from the public each step of the way, he said.
Commissioner Frank Orrell questioned some of the details, such as whether card-lock stations would be included. Commissioner Terry Ferguson was generally supportive, emphasizing the bad condition of the city's streets.
The gas tax was a discussion item. No vote was taken.
As for Astoria, the city is still "actively pursuing a gas tax as a possible mechanism to help fund maintenance and repair of the street system," Astoria Public Works Director Ken Cook said today. But, he said, there has been little time to devote to the topic because dealing with the Jan. 6 landslide at First and Commercial streets has taken priority.
Figures from the professional appraisal show estimated gas consumption of 11,500,000 gallons per year for Astoria, which would raise $345,000 at a tax rate of 3 cents a gallon. Astoria has a number of gas stations, including one operated by Safeway.
Astoria Mayor Willis Van Dusen has said he intends to hold a series of public hearings on the gas tax proposal to find out how residents and gas station operators feel, and has asked city staff to prepare a prioritized list of streets that need to be repaired, as well as details of how proceeds from the last road levy were used.
If Astoria and Warrenton approve a gas tax, the cities would join 12 other Oregon cities which tack on an average of 3 cents per gallon. Under state law, the money must be used for street maintenance and repairs.