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Auburn seeks ways to fund streets

Money from the state and federal government that once helped cities like Auburn build local streets and maintain what they already had has dried up since the Great Recession hit in late 2008.

This past April the City put forward a $59 million bond measure it had hoped would fill the gap left by the lack of state and federal revenue.

And Auburn voters thumped the measure down.

Today, as time and traffic continue to wear Auburn's streets down, members of the City's Municipal Services Committee are wrestling with that big question — where to find the revenue?

Members have beeb tinkering with various options for big city corridors: chip sealing or rebuilds here; thick or thin overlays there.

As to revenue, they've been studying various combinations of fee increases on the residential customer side, of possible new taxes on the business side, combinations that strike the proper ratio between each.

Committee members recently got a look at maps presenting two different build and fix scenarios showing what the street will look like five years on.

"This is going to be a case of pay me now, or pay me later," said Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis.

"We understand that, but the public doesn't understand that," committee member Largo Wales responded. "... We've got to figure out how to get the money."

Councilmember Wayne Osborne threw out some plans for consideration only:

• Raise the public utility tax 1 percent above the current 7 percent: net, $500,000. Proceeds would go to arterial preservation.

• Raise the cable television tax from the current 1 percent to the maximum 6 percent allowable by law: net, $850,000. Proceeds would go to arterial preservation.

• A $20 car tab fee: net, $700,000. In 2011 the City created a Transportation Benefit District, which can levy up to a $20 annual car licensing fee without voter approval.

On the business side, Osborne'a plan suggests regulatory licensing fees or a business and occupation tax to make up the remaining revenue. The City is authorized to levy a B&O tax of up to .2 percent on the gross income or gross receipts. Businesses eligible for the B&O tax include: extracting; manufacturing; retail; services and wholesale.

Osborne's math would net the City $2 million from residential and $4 million from commercial customers, The heavier burden falls on business because it is responsible for most of the heavy truck traffic that wears down the streets.

"It would be spreading the wealth between both of those groups," Osborne said. "That's just my idea. It doesn't mean I would support mixing it. But it's something we could start talking about and thinking about," Osborne said.

Osborne conceded he is "not real strong" on the B&O tax primarily because of the work load and everything else associated with it, whereas the business regulatory licensing fee seems to him the best idea.

"It could be done on number of employees or square footage, but it has to be done equitably," Osborne said.

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