WALLA WALLA - On Feb. 14 voters will be asked to approve a two-tenths of a cent increase in the sales tax (raising it from 8.7 percent to 8.9 percent) for the purpose of creating a dedicated fund - about $1 million a year - to repair and maintain our city's streets.
As an advocate for the business community, you might expect the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce to oppose a tax increase of this nature, but in this case we do not. In fact, we are endorsing this proposal and are encouraging voters to support it.
As leaders of the business community, we are strong advocates for fiscal discipline in government operations, and we encourage restraint when it comes to the adoption of additional taxes and fees. However, we also recognize that certain investments in essential services - such as the maintenance and repair of our transportation infrastructure (just a fancy way of saying streets) is a vital component of a strong community with a healthy and vibrant economy.
In other words, some things are simply worth paying for.
I look at road maintenance a lot like I look at maintaining my car. My owner's manual provides pretty straight forward guidelines for recommended maintenance to keep my car in top running shape. However, I (like a lot of other people) am not perfect and I don't always follow those guidelines to a tee. Sometimes I choose to defer certain maintenance items for any number of reasons.
In the back of my mind, I always know that the longer I defer that maintenance the higher the risk that something will go wrong - and that something usually comes with a hefty mechanic's bill.
Our city streets are no different. They can be ignored for a few years, but after that, if they are not properly maintained the wear and tear begins to grow exponentially; and so does the cost to repair them.
It is no secret that our city's roads have been neglected for far too long. Cracks and potholes are rampant, to the point of being embarrassing.
In fact, after driving through Walla Walla a visitor recently inquired whether the poor condition of our roads was indicative of the health of our community as a whole.
Imagine, a short drive over our bumpy streets caused this individual to question whether all of the other wonderful characteristics of our town were nothing more than a faade hiding further decay. And this story is not an isolated incident.
I have heard stories with variations on this theme from more than one Chamber member, and it indicates in a very real way that the poor condition of our roads has serious impacts on our business community and on the future of our town.
For more than two decades, the citizens of Walla Walla have been looking for a way to deal with street maintenance and repair. Some folks have spent substantial energy trying to assign blame for current condition of our city streets, but frankly I think that is just a waste of time.
I prefer to recognize the simple fact that we are facing a real problem and we need real solutions to address it, and that is why the Chamber chose to endorse and support this proposed sales tax increase.
We recognize that this is not an easy decision - tax increases never are - but at the end of the day, some things are just worth paying for; especially when they pave the way to a smoother future.
Damien J. Sinnott is the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerc's vice president for public policy & business development. He can be reached at email@example.com