CRESWELL— The Creswell City Council made a significant step towards passing a Transportation Utility Fee (TUF) to fill existing gaps in roads funding.
During Monday night’s city council meeting, the council approved the TUF ordinance in a 5-2 vote, but because the vote was not unanimous — councilors Staci Holt and Nick Smith voted in opposition — the ordinance will be brought to the council for a second vote during an upcoming May meeting per ordinance law. If the ordinance is approved by a majority on the second vote, the TUF will officially be enacted.
Under the TUF, the city will treat transportation like a utility by implementing a monthly fee for the upkeep and improvement of its transportation systems. The new rate for a single-family residence road usage in Creswell would be $4 per month. Other entities, such as schools, gas stations, and churches will pay more depending on the amount of traffic they generate.
In an email to council last week, Brent Murphy, pastor of Hillside Church wrote in opposition to the TUF.
“I love being a part of our community and I appreciate the thoughtful manner and hard work in which the city is managed,” he said. “I am concerned over the amount that could be billed to our organization. I’m not opposed to paying a utility fee, but when compared with other businesses and churches, our rate is higher.”
Last week, local businesses received letters from the city with estimates of their monthly TUF fee rate — and many of those business owners spoke during the city’s public hearing against the passing of the fee.
“I’m a longtime resident of Creswell,” said Daniel Basaraba, who is a real estate investor and developer, including the apartments at the former Super 8 and the Bald Knob property. “I own several properties here. I speak on behalf of the businesses on my property. This is going to be passed on to the residents of Creswell. That’s what businesses do, otherwise they don’t stay in business.”
Holt adamantly opposed the fee, equating it to a tax that, “many of (her) constituents disagree with.”
“To fully inform our constituents, they need to have all the moving parts,” she said. “I think this reads like a tax, even if it isn’t marketed as one.”
Holt attempted to bring the ordinance to the voters, but was unable to due to council order rules.
“I just want to clarify that we do have funding for road projects,” she said. “We just have funding for roads where we can only do major projects every six years instead of every three, which is what we’re trying to accomplish with this TUF.”
Under the current road funding mechanism, major road projects can only be completed every six years due to a significant gap in roads funding; the new measure will shorten that process to every three years.
In 2019, the City completed a 20-year Transportation System Master Plan, showing a long list of road projects, totaling $26 million to complete. It also highlighted a different challenge, an annual road funding gap of $255,000.
Each year, the City’s road maintenance and construction is supported by the state gas tax, vehicle registration fees, and Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) grant funds. Once routine maintenance is deducted from that funding, only $180,000 per year is saved to fix the major road projects outlined in the Transportation System Master Plan.
Councilor Nick Smith met with nearly 25 businesses last week to speak to residents about the impact of the TUF.
“Although personally, it doesn’t bother me that much, but my biggest concern was that myself, and all of us here would have to pay twice,” he said. “Most businesses can absorb some of the cost but if they’re any kind of entrepreneur, they’re gonna pass it along. We’ve got to continue to discuss this amongst ourselves and our neighbors. I think we all need the roads and we all enjoy Creswell. I feel like we’re close, but not quite there, so I’d also like to send it to the voters.”
Still, a majority of the council voted to approve the TUF ordinance.
“I don’t want to be redundant, but I’m very afraid that we’re going to get into the next budget cycle and we’re still going to be talking about this,” said councilor Tammy Sue Schuck. “We can’t do that. We need roads. And they are going to continue to deteriorate and the cost for repair is going to continue to go up.”
Creswell Mayor Dave Stram said that, “whether people in Creswell are driving, walking, cycling or taking the bus, everyone benefits from a high-quality transportation system.”
“I don’t think anyone wants to put hardship on people living in Creswell,” Stram said. “But we have to balance that with the fact that we were elected to do the job — and that job has to do primarily with providing the services of water, sewer, sanitation, public safety and roads. We have to make sure that those things are provided.”
The Creswell City Council will meet next month for the second vote on the TUF ordinance, and if passed, the fee will take effect July 1.