Bend voters may soon get a chance to weigh in on a multimillion-dollar bond package to remedy the city’s aging streets, Mayor Casey Roats said in a “state of the city” address delivered to the Bend Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday evening at the Deschutes Brewery.
Roats said the state of the city is good but “a qualified good,” given the city’s challenges with transportation and affordable housing.
Frequently hoisting a copy of Outside magazine — which has again named Bend one of the best places in America to live — Roats said city government can manage growth but not stop it, and Bend is likely to add 30,000 new residents over the next 10 years.
Getting a handle on years of deferred road maintenance is one of the first steps the city needs to take to prepare for that future, Roats said.
Roats said he and other councilors want to spend the next year or so visiting with neighborhood associations and others to develop a list of key roads that have deteriorated to a point where the city would be better off replacing them than repairing them. If a list can be created that provides benefits to residents across the city, Roats said he would support a bond to rebuild those roads, a package he said could cost somewhere around $40 million.
Replacing those roads would take a big bite out of the city’s estimated $80 million in deferred streets maintenance. If the city could pass such a bond, and the Legislature approves a gas tax that would steer around $2 million a year to Bend, the city could begin chipping away at the remaining maintenance needs without having to secure a new source of revenue, he said.
The city may also soon be looking to join forces with private developers and landowners to complete major transportation projects beyond the reach of a bond like the one proposed by Roats. The Empire Avenue and Murphy Road connections — the cost of extending Murphy Road to 15th Street is estimated at $20 million to $35 million — are among the projects that could be made more feasible through a public-private partnership.
Expanding the city’s stock of affordable housing is a top priority for the council, Roats said, though he did not unveil any new initiatives.
City engineer Russ Grayson, who along with Assistant City Manager Jon Skidmore joined Roats for the address, said the explosion in apartment construction could help stem the rise in rents and home costs. A little more than 1,000 apartments are under construction in Bend with another 1,000 in earlier stages of the planning process, Grayson said. There are no signs construction will slow down any time soon.
Roats also said he’s ready to support a move to make the mayor an elected position in Bend. Roats and his predecessors have been selected by their fellow council members.
Bend has grown too large to be effectively managed by a council of volunteers receiving a stipend of less than $200 a month, Roats said. An elected mayor, possibly with more generous compensation, could provide the attention to daily governance that volunteer councilors can’t.
“If we aren’t spending much on our budget for councilors, you’re getting what you pay for sometimes,” he said.
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