A few years before the vote for incorporation won at the ballot in Liberty Lake, residents of Spokane County’s easternmost community decided to start a fund dedicated to building trails.
The revenue would be generated through an increase in property tax and finance the construction of a well-organized network of pathways throughout the burgeoning residential area. When Liberty Lake officially became a city in August 2001, the foundation for pedestrian routes had already been implemented. Today, the city features one of the most developed trail systems in the entire state.
At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, Liberty Lake Mayor Wendy Van Orman pointed to the 25 miles of paved lanes set aside for walkers, cyclists and joggers as part of a discussion about how to finance a different kind of pavement, specifically the 90 miles of roadway within Liberty Lake boundaries.
A debate over the pros and cons of a funding mechanism known as a transportation benefit district took center stage during a workshop discussion at the April 6 meeting with several council members expressing concern that the jurisdiction might lack the necessary leverage to influence regional transportation projects that would be a byproduct of the TBD.
Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke and Spokane Mayor Mary Verner have led the conversation about adding a countywide TBD to raise funds for road maintenance and construction. By state law, a City Council can collect up to $20 on each vehicle license renewal without a public vote. Any amount over $20 would need to appear on a ballot.
Local officials are talking about the possibility of a $45 car tab that would add $20 million annually to road maintenance budgets as well as a variety regional transportation projects. Cities like Spokane Valley and Liberty Lake would receive a 70-percent share of the revenue with the remaining 30 percent being deposited into a regional fund to benefit large-scale capital projects like the north/south Freeway.
Based on an equation that figures in population and vehicle miles traveled, Liberty Lake comprises 1.22 percent of Spokane County’s TBD allocation, resulting in an annual distribution of nearly $245,000.
Van Orman advised that making road upkeep a top financial priority will save the city in the long run.
“We know that for every dollar we spend for maintenance, we are saving $8 that would be used later to rebuild the entire road,” she said.
City Engineer Andrew Staples confirmed the mayor’s claim, stating that a square yard of pavement runs around $9 to $10 to preserve while a complete overhaul would cost between $40 to $45 per square yard.
Van Orman highlighted several of the positives regarding an interlocal TBD agreement including Liberty Lake businesses benefiting from improved regional routes like the north/south freeway.
“All of them rely very heavily on getting freight to businesses,” Van Orman said.
Some council members were less enthused about the possibility of an arrangement that could leave Liberty Lake with less money than if it established its own TBD and marginalize the city’s impact in determining the regional transportation agenda.
“I think if I were the city of Spokane, I’d think this is a great idea,” said Council Member Ryan Romney. “But we’re Liberty Lake. I think this puts us at a disadvantage.”
Staples pointed out that if Liberty Lake implemented a TBD that met or exceeded the fee included in the interlocal agreement “the money that Liberty Lake collected would stay in the city.”
Van Orman encouraged the city’s governing board to study the draft of the interlocal agreement leading up to a discussion on the TBD at a meeting hosted by Greater Spokane Incorporated later this month. She emphasized that Liberty Lake was looking at a number of road improvement projects that would fit into the regional category including an ambitious I-90 interchange project and upgrades of roads like Appleway, Country Vista and Valleyway.
“We have regional roads that we’re going to need help with in the future,” Van Orman said. “It will come back to us at some point.”