The vehicle license tab fee for Olympia residents will increase to $40 starting in January.
The increased fee was approved Tuesday by the Olympia Transportation Benefit District board and is expected to generate $750,000 more per year for road repairs and maintenance. The money can be used only for that purpose.
Now, the city imposes a $20 renewal fee for vehicles registered to owners inside the Olympia city limits.
Olympia already devotes about $3 million a year toward its underfunded pavement management program, said Rich Hoey, public works director. The city has a backlog of about $48 million in pavement repairs for streets with a “poor” rating — and the backlog would have gotten worse without the extra revenue, he said.
The rating for roads is based on the amount of cracking, potholes, and overall wear and tear. On a scale of zero to 100, anything rated above 70 is considered good, and anything below 50 is considered poor. The city’s street system has an overall rating of 75, Hoey said.
The extra money from the higher license tab fee will not solve the maintenance backlog problem, but it will help slow the road system’s decline while keeping the backlog from growing, Hoey said. Downtown streets will be a priority in the next five to seven years, he said, noting that additional funding will allow the city to repair more streets on the west side.
To completely eliminate the backlog, he said, the city would need an extra $4 million a year. The city estimates that one lane-mile of chip sealing costs $100,000, the same as one-fourth of a mile of paving. Roads that are in poor condition require more expensive and extensive repairs, according to the city.
The Transportation Benefit District, also called a TBD, was established in 2008. The city began collecting the $20 license tab renewal fee in 2009.
The TBD board consists of all seven Olympia City Council members, but the board’s decisions are made independently of the council.
The board has the authority to raise the license tab renewal fee to $40 without a public vote. After two years at the $40 level, the board can raise the fee to $50 without a public vote, according to state law. After that, any additional amount up to $100 must be approved by voters. The board could also ask voters to raise the sales tax as much as 0.2 percent.
Another long-term solution for preserving roads is to encourage alternative modes of transportation, said Councilman Jim Cooper.
“We really need to find new and innovative ways to get cars off the road,” Cooper said Tuesday, calling for ways to promote more biking, walking and transit riding.