Like many municipalities in our region, the City of Boulder is stuck between falling sales tax revenue and rising construction costs, which makes it difficult to maintain city streets at a high standard. Transportation maintenance takes up roughly two-thirds of the city’s $25 million transportation budget, but the purchasing power of those dollars has eroded roughly 38 percent since 2001.
To combat this dilemma, the City’s Transportation Department has suggested a transportation maintenance fee, which would be attached to utility bills. A task force has spent several months coming up with a proposal for a possible fee that would be indexed to inflation, giving Boulder a reliable revenue stream to address transportation infrastructure. According a memo to the City Council, transportation staff hopes such a fee would raise between $2.5 million and $5.6 million.
The proposed fees range from $35 to $80 a year for single-family detached homes and from 10 to 22 cents per square foot for commercial buildings and shopping centers. Officials propose different rate structures for different types of commercial and industrial property based on how much traffic they generate. Unlike many taxes, the fees as proposed would apply to other governmental entities, including the University of Colorado and Boulder Valley School District, which would be assessed per-student fees.
In a December study session some Council members raised concerns that the proposed fees don’t provide incentives to drive less or will be perceived by the public as a tax. However, they want the city to keep working on the issue and hold public meetings to get a sense of how residents feel about the idea. Those meetings have not been scheduled yet but the Council will likely hold another meeting to discuss the proposal in April.
Note: Boulder isn’t the first jurisdiction to consider a transportation fee (look at what the legislature did with the FASTER bill several years ago). But it’s interesting that the fee could apply to other government entities, as well as individual residents and businesses. How would this fee impact economic development? While many questions remain, it is likely that focus groups will reveal that residents do not support the idea of a new fee although that is perhaps less certain in Boulder than it would be anywhere else.