Bend may lose its battle to keep up with the city’s road needs. It’s anticipated to need more than $220 million by 2040 for new roads that it’s not going to get from existing taxes and fees.
What should Bend do?
A city committee is meeting this week to discuss options for raising money. There are many. Two are particularly bad while one makes a lot more sense.
We’ll start with the bad. Imagine going to a restaurant and having a meal with family or friends. When it’s time for the bill, there’s a notation on the bottom: Bend road tax. That’s right: The city’s transportation advisory committee, or CTAC, is considering a sales tax on prepared food and drink to pay for — roads.
What’s the connection between roads and this tax? It’s thin, as even CTAC’s funding committee acknowledges: “Most members expressed concerns about describing and justifying the tool to voters who must approve it. Some felt that it would be challenging to communicate the logic or linkage between levying a sales tax on food/beverages and using that revenue for transportation projects.”
The food tax is being proposed because it may capture some revenue from tourists. But it also would be paid by anyone living in Bend who went out to eat, creating an incentive not to patronize local businesses.
At least it would be put to a public vote.
The next bad idea up for consideration is a transportation utility fee, or TUF. It’s a fee that the city could send property occupants every month to bill them for using city roads. Occupants of homes would pay based on some formula that guesses how many trips an average home generates. Business could be charged, too, based on a similar guess. It’s not clear how much it would be. And the fee could be used to collect revenue from property-tax exempt properties, such as the Bend’s public schools and the St. Charles Health System.
It’s a tool some people love because it could be implemented by the Bend City Council without voters having a say at the ballot box. And that is just some of what’s wrong with it. The city should not implement any such fee without a vote of the people.
A transportation bond is the best option CTAC is considering. It would require that the city make an argument to voters about how much it will raise and how it will be spent — just like the school district or the park district does when they want to raise money for important improvements. A bond also forces the city to develop an attractive mix of projects that cater to a broad spectrum of the public — not just the members of the CTAC committee.
And best of all, the public gets to vote.