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Gas tax advocates urge voter support.

Byline: Andrea Damewood The Register-Guard

SPRINGFIELD - With May ballots beginning to wind their way to voters today, advocates of the city's proposed 2-cents-per-gallon gas tax increase gathered at City Hall Thursday to see if they could fuel a little more support from citizens.

The biggest challenge they face is getting residents to get over the "T-word" - taxes - and show them the increase would keep the city's streets from becoming so run down that it will cost millions of dollars to rebuild them later, said Rick Dancer, a former political candidate and spokesman for Save Our Streets, a committee formed to back the tax.

"We don't want our streets to get in bad shape," said Dancer, who lives on rural property several miles outside the city limits. "This money isn't going to bike lanes, roundabouts, curbs, nothing like that. ... It's about preserving what we have."

It costs about $200,000 a mile to preserve the city's streets with slurry seal overlay, while the cost of completely rebuilding severely deteriorated roads is $1 million a mile, committee chairwoman and former city councilor Anne Ballew said.

With annual road payments from the county gone and more fuel-efficient cars at the pump hurting the city's gas tax revenue, the city just doesn't have enough to keep its programs going, she explained.

"What it all comes down to is we have less money to do the same job," Ballew said.

Ballot Measure 20-153 would go into effect in July, and increase Springfield's per gallon tax to 5 cents, bringing it equal with Eugene, which currently has the highest gas tax in the state. Proponents say the increase would cost the average driver $20 a year.

The City Council - facing a $600,000 shortage in this year's street fund budget, and a growing $4 million backlog of work - referred the tax to the May 19 ballot. The proposed 2-cent increase would bring in about $570,000 annually.

But Springfield resident Melinda Raven said she's far from sold on the concept of paying more for anything during a recession. She said she appreciates the condition of her city's streets and that the City Council seems "to allocate their funds appropriately and spend it reasonably."

Yet she thinks waiting a year or two until the economy turns around would be best.

"I'm still leaning toward no. They would have to do some serious convincing at this point," Raven said. "They run this city like I have to run my budget at home. And right now, my boss isn't giving me a raise."

Sitting in the Springfield Public Library, Noti resident Richard Conner said he wasn't crazy about more taxes either.

"I really don't think it's a good idea, with the taxes going up the way they are already," he said, adding that though he can't vote in Springfield, he'll make his opinion known. "I will buy my gas in Eugene or out in Veneta."

Springfield gets about $3 million a year from state and local fuel taxes. This year, it spent the money on operations - things like sweeping, keeping signals working, patching potholes, and maintaining landscaping, according the PAC Web site. In past years, Springfield has spent about $500,000 yearly on preservation, but it no longer has the funding to do so.

Should the measure fail, the city's public works department may cut its street fund by about $657,000, Save Our Streets founder and Ward 2 Councilor Terri Leezer said.

Measure 20-153

About: Voters will weigh in on the May 19 ballot on a 2-cents-per-gallon gas tax increase to repair and preserve Springfield streets

Effect: Will raise $570,000 annually for the street fund; without it, city leaders say, streets will fall into disrepair

For: Save Our Streets. Visit www.saveourstreetstoday.com

Against: No organized opposition
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Title Annotation:City/Region; The measure would increase Springfield's per-gallon tax to 5 cents, with the money raised going to maintain city streets
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 1, 2009
Words:630
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