North Bend City Council mulls road maintenance fee, other sources of revenue

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Key Points

  • The North Bend City Council discussed the possibility of a road use fee and/or a city-wide sales tax on fuel
  • Monday’s meeting was a work session – nothing was actually voted on
  • If the council agrees on the details of a fuel tax and/or a transportation fee, the council seems likely to add the measure(s) to the May or November ballots

Household budgets stretched thin

High levels of inflation, both in terms of the published numbers from the federal government, and the prices of household necessities like fuel, food, and building materials have left taxpayers with in a financial bind. Household debt levels are at an all-time high, including credit card debt, while less money is being spent on luxury purchases, indicating that families are increasingly financing a greater percentage of their household expenses with debt.

Fees on North Bend residents’ water bills

The imposition of a road maintenance fee would likely be carried out by adding a fee to city residents’ water bills. The city of North Bend currently charges a $15 per month “public safety fee” to every household water billl; Coos Bay charges $10 per month “transporation fee.” The methodology of adding fees to water bills is favored by localities because virtually every occupied home in each of the cities has an account with the water board. This makes the collection of the fee rather simple, since there is already a mechanism in place

Utility fees scrutiny

The legality and constitutionality of fees added to utility bills for the purposes of collecting money for things unrelated to the actual utility service has been subject to a certain level of scrutiny. Are the fees tacked onto water bills essentially a tax? That’s complicated and subject to some legal interpretation. Fees and taxes are both methods used to collect revenue from the citizenry, however what sets fees apart from taxes is that they are designed to recover the cost of a service that has been provided. Taxes, on the other hand, are not necessarily tied to any specific service that was provided. That being said, can a fee really be considered a fee, rather than a tax, if a citizen never opted into using a specific service? What is the legality of imposing a “fee” for road maintenance if the fee is imposed solely on the residents of that city, even though individuals that live outside the city use those roads as well? How about the legality of depriving a citizen of drinking water for failure to pay a fee which is wholly unrelated to the water and sewer service? Those questions, if they will ever be answered authoritatively, will have to be answered by a court.

Prior attempt at a fuel tax

Both North Bend and Coos Bay attempted to pass fuel taxes in their respective cities in 2018. Both cities were unsuccessful in passing their fuel tax measures. The tax would have been $0.04 per gallon.

The timing of the proposed measure(s) was something of a point of contention. There’s ample time for North Bend to get a measure on the November ballot if they choose to go that route.

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