King County executive proposes $20 fee to fund roads

October 9, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Unincorporated King County residents could pay a $20 vehicle license fee next year to shore up road maintenance in rural areas.

Dow Constantine

King County Executive Dow Constantine recommended the fee in the proposed 2013 budget. The fee is projected to raise $4.5 million to fund road projects in unincorporated areas, such as Klahanie, May Valley and Preston in the Issaquah area.

The alternative could mean reduced maintenance to correct problems, such as potholes, and a slower response during snow and ice storms.

Still, county leaders need about $50 million to $65 million per year to maintain the 1,500-mile road network in unincorporated King County.

“The fee won’t be enough, not by a long shot. But it’s the only remaining authority left to counties by the Legislature,” Constantine said in a Sept. 24 budget address to the King County Council. “The system for funding local transportation in Washington state is broken. Everybody knows it. We have a 1930s revenue system to fund 21st century transportation needs.”

The proposal, like the rest of Constantine’s budget, requires approval from council members. The council is expected to adopt a budget before Thanksgiving.

The announcement came little more than a month after Constantine and other leaders told residents to expect reduced maintenance on unincorporated area roads as the Road Services Division made cuts due to reduced tax revenue.

The county cut pothole repairs by almost half in recent years; by 2013, pothole filling and patching could be reduced by almost 65 percent.

“If all the cuts in this budget must be taken, the King County Roads Services Division will have eliminated about 226 positions since 2010, or more than one-third of its workforce,” Constantine said in the budget address. “That will mean little or no road resurfacing. Pothole patching cut back — again. Snowplowing and cleanup from windstorms scaled back — again.”

Officials said reduced maintenance could force speed reductions, and bridge and lane closures, in order to preserve deteriorating roads.

Local property tax revenue and a separate roads levy support the County Road Fund. The county collects $2.25 per $1,000 in assessed value through the levy. Overall, the average homeowner is expected to pay about $90 less in 2013 for road services than in 2009, due to a 44 percent drop in the value of assessments in unincorporated areas.

In recent years, annexations of unincorporated areas into nearby cities, lower property valuations and a dip in gas tax revenue caused the fund to drop 25 percent, from $122 million in 2010 to $98 million in 2013.

“We need to find a short-term fix to keep our road maintenance at sufficient levels while we work with the state and federal governments on a long-term, sustainable funding mechanism to solve the ongoing funding gap in our roads budget,” Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, a budget team member and the Issaquah representative, said in a statement.

Constantine’s spending plan outlines $684 million for the general fund — the source of dollars for elections, law enforcement and other basic government functions. The county’s annual spending in 2013 — including the general fund and other accounts —is expected to hover at about the same amount as 2012, or $4.4 billion.

Unincorporated residents can also expect to pay more for storm water management fees under the proposed budget. The proposal calls for the average homeowner to pay $169 per year, rather than the current $133.

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