City gears up for third look at equipment levy

Hood River officials are hoping the adage "three times is the charm" also proves true for ballot measures.

On Monday the city council decided to revisit a twice-denied bond levy for replacement of an aging service fleet that could soon be unrepairable because of budget constraints.

"You can't plow the streets or maintain efficiency in services if you don't have the equipment," said Mark Lago, director of the city public works/engineering department.

For example, Lago said the engine blew up on the 1982 model road grader during the first snow storm this winter -- which put it out of commission for the rest of the season. In addition he said it became difficult to clear second and third priority roadways since the mechanical shop was like a "war zone" as crews struggled to keep the 40-year-old sander and two 10-year-old snow plows operable.

Lago said he does not know how the 11 employees in the public works department will be able to keep up with plowing needs during a winter with a heavy snowfall. In fact, the need for 13 new service vehicles is so great that Lago said he and his workers are willing to go door-to-door to explain the situation to citizens. He also proposes that the city host an open house that would allow residents to see for themselves the condition of the existing equipment.

"I don't think people in Hood River really understand how bad this situation is going to get in another few years," said Lago.

Lago is recommending that the city seek a $500,000 bond levy, with the collection spread over a five-year period. The $100,000 annual special tax would cost property owners about 33 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Since Lago estimates that buying replacement vehicles would necessitate an expenditure of about $863,000, he is also suggesting that the city restructure its parking meter rates to bring in an additional $281,700 that would be used for vehicle replacement.

Under Lago's plan, the 25 cents most commonly used to plug meters would buy 20 minutes instead of the current 30 minutes. Just that small differential could drastically increase the level of service the city could afford to provide, said Lago.

Lynn Guenther, city manager, will be talking about Lago's parking meter proposal with the Downtown Business Association on April 9 and bringing their reaction back to the council at a subsequent meeting. At that time further discussion will be given toward the levy.

In November of 2000 voters shot down the same request by a 56 to 36 percent margin. A similar levy, which requested $2.5 million over five years, was rejected in a two-to-one margin in November 1998.

If the city tries again, Guenther said, officials will make a push to provide more information on the need for the particular equipment it is seeking through the levy.

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