Kennewick discusses how to pay for projects on wish list

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldMay 6, 2014 

Impact fees or a new taxing district are ways Kennewick might be able to pay for some of the 100 capital projects that make up a mammoth two-decade wish list.

Community members on the city's Blue Ribbon Commission told the Kennewick City Council on Tuesday that impact fees and a transportation benefit district could help pay for transportation, a fire station and parks needs.

Though it's easy to say no to new fees or new taxes, that's not how the world really works, said Kennewick Mayor Steve Young.

"We are going to have to go out and find some more money to keep doing what we are doing because we can't stretch it any further," agreed longtime Councilman Paul Parish.

Kennewick has cut expenses where it can, Young said. It's time for the tough decisions, including how to get more money and where to spend it.

Otherwise, "the only choice we have is the elimination of programs," Young said.

But Councilman Bob Parks said the council also needs to consider reducing programs and look at salaries as well, a large chunk of the city's budget.

That isn't easy, but he said that's why the councilmen were elected. "If you can't do it, you shouldn't be here," he said.

And sometimes expectations need to be scaled back, said Councilman John Trumbo. "You don't always get to have everything you've always had," he said.

The eight-person commission previously prioritized a list of 100 unfunded projects and created a six-year plan as well as one for the next two decades that the council can use for future planning. Those projects are estimated to cost at least $750 million.

Funding options include a one-time transportation impact fee, said James Hempstead, a member of the committee.

Developers have mentioned they like the predictability of impact fees, City Manager Marie Mosley said. Developers do end up having to pay for traffic impacts in Kennewick, but it is unpredictable and depends on how the individual project affects the existing system.

Richland, Pasco and West Richland have transportation impact fees, along with parks impact fees, which Kennewick lacks, Hempstead said. Instead, Kennewick has a fee in lieu of land for city parks.

If people want to build in the Southridge area, then there should be fees along the way to help pay for the infrastructure that will be needed, including fire service, Parish said.

Another option, a transportation benefit district, would allow the council to implement a $20 per vehicle license fee, city officials have said. Voters also could be asked to approve up to a $100 vehicle license fee, a 0.2 percent sales tax or a one-year operations and maintenance property tax levy. The vehicle license fee would be paid when city residents renew their car tabs, said Dan Legard, the city's finance manager.

Hopefully, work done by the committee will give the city council some opportunities to consider on how to pay for capital projects that would relieve pressure on the general fund so those dollars can be freed up for other city needs, said Ron Hue, the committee's chairman.

Kennewick continues to grow exponentially, which means there are projects already needed and more that will be needed, Hue said.

"I think you guys have some real interesting decisions to make," he said.

Priority projects evaluated by the commission include a fire station on 10th Avenue near Kellogg Street, upgrading and maintaining the city's network server, expanding the Three Rivers Convention Center, building infrastructure needed in the Bridge to Bridge area, the city's pavement preservation program, replacing Kennewick police cars, the next phase of the Southridge Sport Complex and adding an intersection on Highway 395 at Ridgeline Drive.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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