Carson City transport official looks to 2016 tax vote

Gasoline tax indexing in Carson City could raise an estimated $1 million annually for roads if voters approve it next year, according to Transportation Manager Patrick Pittenger.

Pittenger and other city officials for years have decried a lack of sufficient money to build and maintain roads in Nevada’s capital city, so he’s looking toward the vote in November, 2016, as a way to alleviate the situation. He made that clear soon after Gov. Brian Sandoval signed Assembly Bill 191, which takes the issue to voters in counties across the state next year.

“Should it be successful,” Pittenger emphasized, “it can only be used for roads.”

He explained the $1 million estimate and the hike anticipated are based on purely preliminary data in the aftermath of the governor approving the legislation, which turned out pretty much the way Clark County advocated when it finally passed. Pittenger said the multiplier would be based on a highway and street construction index, which translates roughly here to another three cents per gallon in gas tax.

It could be different in other counties, he said, but here the current city tax is nine cents a gallon. He said if voters approve, local indexing would add about two cents a gallon in revenue for the city’s Regional Transportation Commission to allocate here, plus a penny for the Nevada Department of Transportation to use on state roads in the capital city. He called those preliminary figures “a reasonable expectation” here.

Pittenger said that Reno-dominated Washoe County has had indexing for several years and even if Carson City adds it by residents’ approval next year, the cost for gasoline would remain lower here than in the more populous city and county to the north. He said the vote is county-by-county as called for in the legislation, though the county and state hikes are combined, and the plan would be voted up or down by voters in each jurisdiction.

Reno and environs, he said, benefitted in dealing with transportation needs there since indexing came in.

“It has allowed them to really make strides in their transportation system,” Pittenger said. He said Las Vegas and Clark County also have had it on a temporary, three-year basis since 2014 and they have as many as 200 projects underway or in the works.

Mayor Robert Crowell and Supervisor Brad Bonkowski, both of whom serve on the local transportation commission (RTC), deal continually with what they and Pittenger see as lack of funding to keep up with road needs here.

Bonkowski, RTC chairman, looked toward next year’s ballot question as a chance to provide a long term underpinning for city streets maintenance and road work.

“Gas tax indexing is our best opportunity to establish a long term, stable revenue stream that will enable us to restart the process of keeping up with our ongoing street maintenance needs,” said Bonkowski. “It has worked in both Washoe and Clark counties, and we look forward to the voters approving this needed source of funding for Carson City on the 2016 ballot.”

The mayor offered a similar rationale.

“That process has worked well in Reno, Washoe County and Las Vegas,” he said, “and our roads could use the help.”

Pittenger, meanwhile, hammered home his point the additional revenue stream from the gas tax index plan can’t be diverted to anything else. He said it can’t be used for the bus system, go into the city general fund or get earmarked for anything but roads. He also stressed the city’s shortage of funds and a piling up of deferred maintenance.

“We don’t have sufficient funds to maintain our roads,” he said. “This will be an important juncture for us.”

He said road maintenance needs now go beyond the patchwork and band-aid approach that can be handled by filling in potholes or cracks and merely using seal coating to keep community streets and arterial roads in passable shape. He also said the federal portion of the gas tax last was raised nearly a quarter century before next year’s local vote, in 1992, while the last state gas tax hike also was in the 1990s and the last city boost was in 1997.

“Without this passing,” Pittenger said, “we will continue to see the condition of our roads deteriorate.”


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