City eyes levy increase for road improvements

As the city’s public works department slowly tackles street improvements, the mayor and several city councilmembers are proposing that voters this fall weigh in on a levy lid lift that would raise $48 million over six years for ongoing residential street repairs, according to a discussion yesterday during a meeting of the neighborhoods and housing committee.

According to public works employees, approximately 6,600 of the city’s 8,800 blocks of residential streets are in stages of disrepair that total $54.6 million, and a lid lift of approximately 50 cents for every $1,000 of assessed valuation would allow the department to more aggressively repair residential streets.

Last year, councilmembers earmarked $276,500 as part of the mid-biennial budget adjustment for a residential street repair program. However, those funds are limited to one year, and only pay to repair 25 blocks.

“Although this funding is appreciated, it falls short of our need,” wrote councilmembers Rick Talbert and Connie Ladenburg, in a May 15 letter addressed to the mayor and city council.

Still, asking voters to lift the cap might be viewed unfavorably by homeowners. A law caps property tax levies on homeowner’s property value. That cap may be exceeded when a majority of voters approve such a move (known as a “levy lid lift”).

“If there was ever a cause celebre to get public support, this is it,” said Mayor Bill Baarsma. “This would really be transforming.”

“It’s the best idea for a levy lid lift yet,” said Councilmember Tom Stenger. “It’s clear the city doesn’t have the resources to do this. This is asking the public to pay for something you’re not getting now.”

“People would be able to see a bang for their buck right away,” said Councilmember Ladenburg.

Whether voters approve a levy lid lift remains to be seen. The city council will further explore the issue during a study session next month.

During yesterday’s committee meeting, however, public works employees provided an update on a new residential street repair program created from those funds allocated during last year’s mid-biennium budget adjustments. According to Hardy Hanson, an employee of the department’s streets and grounds division, workers have completed asphalt overlays, chip seals, and panel replacements in South Tacoma and the Eastside.

Hanson told the committee the new street repair program is a departure from last programs. Previously, the focus of work was limited to pothole patching — a task with little return on investment. Hanson added that pothole patches develop at least as many potholes the previous year, and create a deteriorating cycle.

“Up to this point, we had nothing,” said “With this money, we are able to repair streets in a more proactive manner. For us, this is very exciting. It’s good to see we have turned the corner.”