Monday, March 09, 2009

What Do Your Politics Say About This?

In our fair city, many years ago, there was a law passed dictating that neighborhood street repair would be paid for by the residents of the neighborhood in need of repair. On its surface this sounds pretty fair: no socialist taxation of the masses for the streets only a few use. To be assessed for the repairs, your property has to actually be adjacent to the proposed project, the assessment is paid by the linear foot, and you cannot be charged for more than a 100 feet regardless of the size of your property. Each year since its inception, a few streets have been repaired under its guidelines-mostly resurfacing and pothole filling--relatively inexpensive stuff. I have never heard of this practice in any other city we've ever lived in.

The cover story on our paper today was about this law and how it will affect a local neighborhood in the southern part of the city. Because of my tutoring, I actually drive in the neighborhood in question a couple of times each week. It is truly the worst residential street I've ever driven on: hilly with awkward grades, egregious potholes every few feet, crumbling roadway edges with no sidewalks though pedestrian traffic is common, and stop signs at awkward angles with terrible visibility. The neighborhood dates to the early 80's. Houses range from big to monstrous with large yards filled with dozens of mature trees of every variety. People move there because they like feeling like they are in a rural area, though in fact they are just ten minutes from downtown. South Eugene has its own culture, and though folks are probably 10 to 1 registered Democrats, it is probably likely they are even further to the left than that. More like socialists or hippies or even anarchists. The local high school is probably almost as out there as Berkeley in 1969. Really.

The road has deteriorated so badly, and it has taken so long for residents and the city to agree on a plan for fixing it, that the costs continue to mount. The current plan will likely be bid at just over 5 million dollars. Now five million is a drop in the bucket compared to, say, the severance pay for a disgraced CEO or the federal highway department's annual budget, but for less than 200 homeowners adjacent to the project, this number gets a little bit tricky. The city is paying for just over half, but the remainder is to be divided among property owners in such a way that each will be assessed between $10,000 and $20,000 as their portion of the project.

When I say "assessed," I mean just that. It is like a property tax. If all goes through and is approved then residents on the street will receive a bill for their portion late this year. If the homeowner doesn't respond within ten days to either pay the assessment in full or apply for interest-bearing financing through the city, then there is a lien for the amount put against the value of the property. If the entire city paying for the road seems a bit Socialist, well, I think this latter plan seems downright Communist.

Could you take an unexpected $15,000 hit this year? In this economy? Didn't think so.

There are many ideas--change the law; raise property taxes city-wide with the increase going solely to road construction projects to be prioritized throughout the entire city; abort plans to rebuild the road until it becomes so bad that the mayor loses the muffler from her Prius while out for a pleasure cruise and decides to pay for the whole thing; expand the assessment to included adjacent streets (particularly those who only have access via the repaired road), or to include everyone in that entire council district and thereby reduce each person's liability toward repairs, but still have the assessment targeted at users of the road.

This is not necessarily a Democrat-Republican issue, as city politics are supposed to be free of this sort of thing. (Unless you are Sarah Palin and get elected as mayor of the booming Wasilla Alaska because you are strictly anti-abortion. Because, yeah, Wasilla's mayor has so much say-so in getting Roe v. Wade overturned.) The issue does, however, bring up sharp differences in how people view the use of resources in their community, which has everything to do with your political ideology.

*Should all roads effectively be turned into toll roads? Users only pay for their construction and upkeep?

* If the local residents were so adamant about having a say-so in how the road was constructed (they protested a 4-lane plan, because they didn't want their street to become a "thorough-fare"), then do they bear the onus of paying for it?

* If all residents of the city are expected to pay for its construction, should those immediately adjacent have any say-so in what kind of road they get?

* Where do you draw the line at collective services you are willing to pay for? Military. Roads. Schools. Social Security. Insurance (not government, but still a collective resource backed by a huge bureaucracy). Medicare. Public Libraries. Grants to homeless shelters. Public housing. CHIP. National Parks and public parks. Free and reduced lunch (ALL school lunch is partially subsidized, by the way). Congress' paychecks. National Science Foundation. National Endowment for the Arts . . .

I need not go on, but you get the point. What, if any, services do you think the government can legitimately do better because it is collective and has enormous resources at its disposal? What is (are) the government program(s) that really makes your blood run cold when you see the percent tax taken from your paycheck each month? Nothing like starting the week out with a bit of controversy to get the blood flowing.


Janssen said...

Wow, $15,000. That is killer. Keep us posted on how this turns out - I'll be very interested.

Sherry said...

In general, I like the idea of people paying for their own roads. However, $15,000 is far too much for one household. Not to mention the fact that I grew up on a very busy street- used mostly by people getting in and out of the neighborhood and headed to other streets. Maybe it isn't fair to charge a whole city to fix a street that only 3% of the city uses, but it also isn't fair to charge the residents of one street for something that 97% of the city is using.

So, fixing streets goes to the government, I think.

Z. Marie said...

I agree with Sherry that it should be a government responsibility. Of course, the government's money is tax dollars, so that means the entire city would pay for it.
But isn't that what living in a city is all about?
Years ago when I lived in Mesa, Ariz., we hired a new couple at work. One of my co-workers was giving them advice on where to look for a house, and she said Temple, where her family lived, was a good place because the city was surrounded by other municipalities and therefore couldn't grow land-wise. So she knew her taxes were going to maintain roads and not to build new ones in outlying areas.
I don't know I'd use that as a major factor when deciding where to live, but it's worth considering.