Powers That Be
Urban Road Maintenance District
By Bruce Bartlett, CPO 1
At one time, Washington County's roads were the object of citizen complaints, jokes and derision. It was common to find potholes in our neighborhood streets and poorly maintained roads everywhere. I vividly recall, as late as the 1970s, noticing that the white lines on the sides of 185th Ave. had been painted onto the shoulder gravel because the asphalt did not extend far enough. Sometimes it seemed as though the streets had not been much improved over the original trails the native peoples created.
While residents wanted improvements, they had not agreed on how to pay for them. They lived in the urban unincorporated areas (UUAs) of Washington County—urbanized areas that had never been annexed into a city. The county's road budget focused on the major streets—Arterials and Collectors. Maintaining neighborhood streets was "below the radar." With an estimated 700-1000 people moving into Washington County each month for the last 30 years and traffic congestion increasing dramatically, the need to enhance our local transportation infrastructure was greater than ever by the early 1980s.
Finally, in 1987, voters approved creation of the Urban Road Maintenance District (URMD), intended to supply dedicated funds to provide preventive road maintenance services for public (county-maintained) neighborhood roads within the district. Goals were to prevent further deterioration, protect the traveling public, enhance property values, and promote economic development.
Created by a resolution of the Board of County Commissioners, the URMD was proposed to be a separate service district comprising only land in UUAs. Arterials and Collectors identified on the Washington County Transportation Plan were excluded. But it took until 1994 (after three unsuccessful ballot measures) for voters in the UUA to approve the first property tax levy of $0.365 to fund the URMD. To eliminate the need of having to pass a new levy every 5 years, this became a permanent rate of $0.2456 upon approval of Ballot Measure 50 in 1997. Currently, the owner of a home with an assessed value of $400,000 pays less than $100 per year for the URMD.
The URMD now receives about $3.5 million annually from property taxes to provide paving and routine road maintenance on about 430 miles of local neighborhood streets. Before URMD was funded, over 80 miles of local neighborhood roads were in "poor" or "very poor" condition. Only 77% were in "fair" or better condition. The goal of the URMD was to bring the overall condition of the system up to "fair" or better. That goal has now been met and maintained through preventive maintenance.
The County Auditor's Performance Evaluation of the URMD was performed in 2009. While overall the audit demonstrated good results, the County Administrator's response included the intention to increase citizen participation in the operation of the URMD. The Urban Road Maintenance District Advisory Committee (URMDAC) was recently created and works with county staff and advises the Board of Commissioners on issues related to the URMD. The URMDAC reviews and makes recommendations regarding service levels and annual work programs, assists in evaluating the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of URMD, and advises on continuation of URMD and/or other long-range funding opportunities for road maintenance. At their January 19, 2011 meeting, they reviewed five years of pavement maintenance history, and the roads planned for sealing and paving this summer. They also reviewed and commented on the recently published URMD Annual Report.
For their February meeting, the URMDAC plans to review the 2011 URMD work program more closely and has asked for more information about the threshold for preventive surface treatments. They will continue the discussion of performance measures. They also are investigating the process for changing URMD's scope of allowable activities so that construction of missing sidewalk segments could be funded by URMD.
The URMDAC meets on the third Wednesday of each month at 4 pm at the Walnut Street Center in Hillsboro. Meetings are open to the public, and time is set aside to hear from the public. CPO 1 is well-represented on the eight-member committee—Connecting Neighborhoods leader James Trumper was elected chair, and former Commissioner and CPO Chair John Leeper is also a member. The URMDAC may be contacted directly at URMDAC@co.washington.or.us
Residents, property owners, and users of URMD-eligible local neighborhood streets may inquire about or request URMD services or report road problems to 503-846-ROAD (846-7623) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. An online form is also available to request service or report a road-related problem.