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Missoula City Council agrees to 50-50 split of new gas tax revenue

The local 2-cent-per-gallon gas tax, which officially took effect Tuesday, will pay for maintenance needs alongside the statewide gas tax. (Missoula Current file photo)

The Missoula City Council on Wednesday approved an agreement splitting the estimated annual $1.1 million raised by the local gas tax equally with Missoula County.

The city’s share of the funding will go to its growing backlog of street repairs and help with other transportation needs, said Jeremy Keene, director of Public Works for the city.

“We’ve been ballparking the deferred maintenance needs at about $7 million dollars a year that we’re behind, which means that every year our maintenance needs grow, and then we’re further behind,” Keene said.

The local 2-cent-per-gallon gas tax, which officially took effect Tuesday, will pay for maintenance needs alongside the statewide gas tax.

Keene said the Bridge and Road Safety and Accountability Account, a 5-cent-per-gallon statewide gas tax approved in 2017, provides between $1 million to $2 million to the city annually. He said he doesn’t know how much in total the 27-cent-per-gallon statewide gas tax provides to the city.

Keene anticipates a portion of the funds going into needs and the other portion going into the Capital Improvement Fund. The funds will solely be used for streets and related efforts, and not non-motorized trails.

The funding will be incorporated into the FY22 budget, and from there the city will prioritize projects through that.

“It’s a choice. What condition of the streets are you willing to accept?” Keene said to the council. “We have this rating scale that’s zero to 100 — 100 being a perfect, brand new street — and most of our streets right now are in the 60 to 70 range. It’s a question to you if we want those streets to be in a better condition or if we are willing to live with conditions we have today or if we are willing to accept a lower level of service.”

Keene found the decision to split the funds equally as the most fair way to organize usage of the revenue.

“We looked at road miles and the county has slightly more road miles than the city. So you can argue that the county should get more because of road miles. But we have a greater population in the city so you can argue the other way,” Keene said. “There’s no perfect way to do it, but a 50-50 split seems to be the most equitable way to do that.”

Council members voted 10-0 on the agreement with council members Jordan Hess and Bryan von Lossberg absent.

Council member Gwen Jones emphasized the importance of these funds in Missoula’s climate.

“We have talked for years about how we do not put enough money to simply maintain our streets. We’re always falling behind. So this extra income is going to be really helpful in that respect,” Jones said.

“And the bottom line is we live in a Northern climate. We have a freeze-thaw cycle, and if we were somewhere where we didn’t have that cycle chewing up our streets every winter, we would have a whole different discussion going on, but we have to try to stay on top of it.”

The funds they were getting through the state weren’t enough to meet Missoula’s needs, and the revenue provided will get them a lot closer to meeting those needs, according to council member Stacie Anderson.

“I think that the voters realize that we do need to put more investment into our roads and that’s why they passed this,” Anderson said.

Roughly 51% of voters supported the local gas tax in June.

Keene will present in the next few weeks a survey conducted by Public Works to the council on maintenance priorities in Missoula.

“What we’re seeing there is that we will need to supplement the street maintenance budget to maintain the current level of service we have today,” Keene said. “So it addresses the condition of our streets and the services that we are able to provide, so if we want to continue that, this new gas tax is one of the ways we will be able to do that.”