Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Flushing Money Down The Toilet

From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
City of Pullman pares down its bond issue; City Council prioritizes some projects, scraps others

Park restrooms and walking trails are in. Street repairs and a spray pool are out.

The Pullman City Council on Tuesday finalized the list of projects to be included in the $2.2 million bond issue that will appear on the November ballot.

Replacing aging restrooms at Sunnyside Park, Kruegel Park and the City Playfields at an estimated cost of about $451,000 topped the council’s list of priorities. A $360,000 paved path from the Maple Street Extension to North Grand Avenue also ranked high for most council members.

A noteworthy omission was a proposal to fund street repairs on all four of the city’s hills. Street projects alone could have totaled nearly $2.4 million — more than will be available from the bond.

Streets were a topic of hot debate. Councilwoman Ann Heath didn’t want them funded by the bond, while Councilman Keith Bloom wanted to spend about half the bond money fixing those most in need of repair.

“I’m against building new things when we can’t maintain our existing (infrastructure),” Bloom said. “Our streets are horrendous. Everybody uses them.”

Councilman David Stiller also expressed support for using the money on streets and filling in gaps in the city sidewalks. Heath, along with fellow council members Bill Paul and Francis Benjamin favored going to the voters in the future with a utility tax increase to pay for street repairs.

Money for street repairs comes from a separate fund than the city’s cash-strapped general fund. Revenues for the street fund come primarily from a 2 percent utility tax.

The street fund also gets contributions from the state derived from the gas tax and real estate excise tax. Pullman Transit also kicks some money into the street fund to help pay for wear and tear from city buses.

The city is maxed out on utility taxes, right at the 6 percent allowed by state law. The 4 percent not used for streets goes into the general fund.

Voters, however, could approve an increase beyond 6 percent, City Supervisor John Sherman said.

Heath, Benjamin and Paul agreed many Pullman streets are in dire need of repair, but they thought bond money would be better used for other projects.

The bond would merely “put a Band-Aid” on the growing problems with city streets, Benjamin said, while a 1-2 percent utility tax increase could provide a more stable, long-term solution.

Sherman cautioned that a utility tax increase should come with an expiration date if the council wanted it to pass. No concrete plans were made to take a utility tax hike to the voters.

Another project left off the list was the proposed spray pool at Reaney Park. Paul long has been an advocate of the spray pool, but felt the proposal had grown too big and would be too costly.

“I think there’s more important issues at this time,” he said.

The council’s top issue was bringing restrooms in city parks up to standards. In past meetings about the bond, several council members said they were embarrassed by the condition of the city’s public restrooms.

The proposal adopted by the council would put three new, prefabricated restrooms in Sunnyside Park. Kruegel Park and the City Playfields each would get two wooden restroom buildings designed to fit in with other structures in the parks.

In addition to the restrooms, the council agreed to spend an estimated $250,000 filling gaps in city sidewalks, $354,000 to build a paved path along Johnson Avenue to Bishop Boulevard, $562,000 to install new lights at all three playing fields at the City Playfields, and $125,000 on pre-design work for a performing arts pavilion in Sunnyside Park.


What happened

The Pullman City Council selected projects to be included in the $2.2 million bond issue that will appear on the November ballot.

What it means

If the measure passes, Pullman residents will see new sidewalks, new restrooms in city parks, better lighting at the City Playfields and three new paved trails. The city also agreed to spend about $125,000 on pre-design work for the proposed performing arts pavilion in Sunnyside Park. Street repairs and the Reaney Park spray pool did not make it onto the list of approved projects. The council may consider asking voters for a 1 percent to 2 percent utility tax increase in the future to fund street repairs.

What happens next

The council will adopt a bond ordinance at its Sept. 12 meeting. Once the ordinance is passed, the ballot measure will be submitted to the Whitman County Auditor for inclusion in the general election in November.

Why you should care

Voters get the final say on whether or not the city can levy money for these projects. The bond is designed to replace the expiring 1998 bond, and it is the city’s intent for property taxes to remain the same. If the bond is defeated, property taxes will decrease slightly.


Projects included in the Pullman bond issue with preliminary cost estimates:


Johnson Avenue path from Bellevue apartments to Bishop Boulevard — $354,000

College Hill path from Maple Street Extension to North Grand Avenue — $360,000

Pave and extend an existing path on North Grand Avenue from Turner Drive to Terre View — $115,000


Lighting for all three playing fields at the City Playfields — $562,000

New restrooms at Sunnyside Park, Kruegel Park and the City Playfields — $451,000

Schematic pre-design for performing arts pavilion at Sunnyside Park — $125,000


Filling gaps — $250,000
Some points to ponder:

  • How exactly do ballfield lights, public bathrooms and bike paths make Pullman more attractive for businesses looking to locate here?

  • You think street repairs are expensive now, wait a few years when the price of oil (and therefore asphalt) is higher. Now is the time to do the neede street work. Bathrooms, ballfields, and bike paths can wait.

  • We are property taxed to the max (#1 proportionately among small towns in the West), utility taxed to the max, had our sales tax raised twice in one year, had our gas tax raised by 9.5 cents, and now they are considering raising utiltiy taxes by another 1-2% to pay for street repairs???? Come on.

  • Remember how opponents of I-912 duped Whitman County voters into believing that the 9.5 cent gas tax was going to be the answer to all of our transportation problems? Now WSDOT is already $38 billion in the hole, Seattle wants to do their own version of the "Big Dig", and we'll never see a penny of that gas tax money. I'm leery of any "special tax" that will solve transportation needs. LET'S' USE ALL THE MONEY WE HAVE BEFORE EVEN CONSIDERING RAISING TAXES!!!! I agree with Keith Bloom. Let's pay for what we already have before we build anything else.

  • Sorry, City Council, you blew it big time on this one. I'm sure this bond measure willl pass with flying colors, but I'll be voting against it and I urge you to do the same. It's bad public policy.

    1 comment:

    April E. Coggins said...

    I agree Tom. Unfortunately, I must vote no on the bond to budget for the inevitable tax increase that will be used for the streets. A vote for the bond is a vote to increase taxes, not to keep them the same. We will still need to repave and maintain the streets, no matter if they are funded with a bond or utility taxes. Anyway you look at it, it means less money in the pocket of Pullman residents to pay for a few self interests.

    The city council seems to have forgotten the childhood lesson of eating all of our vegetables before getting dessert. I am terribly dissappointed in our council.