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City council approves Bremerton transportation benefit district

The possibility of raising vehicle license fees for Bremerton residents is still on the table.

Bremerton City Council voted 5-4 Wednesday to create a citywide transportation benefit district.

In a couple of weeks, the council may vote on a possible funding source for the district, which may come down to whether or not to charge $20 more per year for vehicle licenses.

Councilman Nick Wofford, the "principal pusher" for the transportation benefit district, said the city needs $600,000 to maintain and preserve streets and sidewalks and the potential $20 per year car tab hike could provide that funding.

Public Works Director Phil Williams said the 1,700 city street segments were recently inspected and rated on a zero to 100 scale, with 100 being excellent, and 270 of the city's streets scored a zero.

"The streets continue to deteriorate," Williams said. "We could begin to turn that around and improve streets."

Williams said the city has not been repaving roads like it should during the past several years and no repaving will be done at all this year because of budget constraints.

Williams said aging and weathered streets cause damage to vehicles, resulting in Bremerton motorists spending more money on repairs. He also said streets littered with potholes and cracks could slow police and fire emergency response times as well as put pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists at risk.

If the streets are not fixed soon, costs to the city could skyrocket, according to Williams.

"They're going to cost a lot more to fix the longer we wait," he said.

Some council members and a handful of citizens said if the streets were in such disrepair, funding should have been included in the city's general budget.

Most citizens, however, spoke in favor of the transportation benefit district at Wednesday's public hearing.

Council members Cecil McConnell and Mike Shepherd said a countywide transportation benefit district should be created to fund street and sidewalk repairs.

Williams said he spoke with county officials about that and it was not an option at this time.

Shepherd said a large percentage of drivers use Bremerton streets simply to get from one end of the county to the other and it is unfair to force only Bremerton residents to pay for the streets' maintenance.

Shepherd added that as Bremerton's cost of living increases, the number of city residents decreases and people may move outside city limits should the vehicle license fee increase.

"Somehow, some way we're going to have to pay for those streets we're using," Councilman Brad Gehring said. "Our streets are a huge investment."

McConnell said people cannot afford a fee hike in today's economic times. He, Shepherd, Dianne Robinson and Carol Arends voted against the transportation benefit district.

Gehring, Wofford, Will Maupin, Adam Brockus and Roy Runyon voted for the district.

"We are going to have to do something, but I'm not sure how we're going to fund it," Runyon said. "So stay tuned."

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