Monroe’s streets are falling apart faster than Monroe can find money to fix them.
That has been true for several years. Now the city will need about $12 million to get caught up.
So the city of Monroe is asking voters if they would like to raise some of the needed money through a sales tax increase.
For years, Monroe had little trouble paying for street maintenance. That’s because the city owned some land that contained a lot of gravel. The city sold the gravel to Lakeside Industries and Cadman, and used the money for streets.
Since 1996, tax support for street repairs have steadily declined. And now that Lakeside Industries has left the North Kelsey area, funds have shrunk.
Some sales taxes and some gas taxes already come to the city, but the recession shrunk sales tax revenues and costs have risen, said Brad Feilberg, Public Works Director of the city of Monroe.
Grant money comes in sporadically, but it’s not enough to keep up with streets.
Now there are a number of streets that need to be reconstructed entirely and more that need rehabilitation or major maintenance. The rest need preventative maintenance.
It’s not a problem unique to Monroe. In 2008 the Association of Washington Cities published a report that found that statewide, cities are unable to adequately fund infrastructure maintenance.
“Today, Washington’s cities’ capital infrastructure systems are in a state of disrepair,” the report read.”Thirty percent of cities report that the condition of their streets is poor, very poor or failing.”
In Monroe, among the streets that need to be entirely reconstructed are W. Columbia Street, the north end of 179th Avenue S.E. and part of Fryelands Boulevard and Chain Lake Road.
All but two blocks of Main Street needs either rehabilitation or major maintenance, as do most of the rest of the streets in town.
Only a handful need preventative maintenance alone, including most of Currie Road, and about a third of S. Madison Street.
Monroe decided in 2012 to adopt a strategy recently made legal by the state legislature; the city created a Transportation Benefit District with the power to tax itself for its own traffic projects.
This year, the city is proposing such a tax, called Proposition 1, and ballots must be mailed by Tuesday, Aug. 5.
The city’s sales tax rate is currently 8.7 percent on everything sold within city limits. The sales tax increase would bring that to 8.9 percent.
That would mean that tax on a $1,000 living room set purchased in Monroe would increase by $2, from $87 to $89.
City officials say that the sales tax is a more fair tax than would be a property tax. Sales taxes are paid by all people who use the streets to shop in Monroe, regardless of where they live.
If the tax is approved by voters, the city is going to start by trying to save money in the long run by doing preventative maintenance on the best streets first. It’s a lot cheaper to maintain streets while they are in good shape than fix streets once they’ve deteriorated, said Brad Feilberg.
“What we are going to do first is go do the pavement rating, to see how it’s been deteriorating; make sure we do the ones with the best bang for the buck,” he said. “You want to do the stuff that’s the least bad first. You want to get the stuff that can be salvaged.”
The first four years, 2015-2018, the city would spend about $400,000 on preventative maintenance, half a million on major maintenance and a little more than $1 million on rehabilitation. From then until the sales tax expires in 2025, the city would focus on rehabilitation and reconstruction projects.
In all the tax would raise about $8 million of the $12 million or so the city would need to get all the streets into perfect repair.
City Financial Director Dianne Nelson said that the rest of the funds will have to come from other sources.
“It won’t solve everything, but it’s a step in the right direction and we are hoping as the city grows we might find the additional funding in grants and diversion of funds from the general fund if the budget allows,” she said. “Right now it doesn’t.”
If the measure fails, Feilberg said the city will continue fixing potholes and hope the taxpayers will approve the measure another year.