Echoing a familiar refrain, Frederick city officials want to send a clear message in their annual list of state legislative requests: Bring back our highway user revenues.
The request was one of four legislative initiatives discussed at a workshop Wednesday that the city is hoping can be addressed by the state legislative delegation in 2013.
The funds, collected via transportation-related state taxes or fees such as the gas tax or car title fees, are usually distributed by the state to municipalities to be used for road maintenance.
But since 2007, when the city received $3.05 million from the state in highway user fee revenue, the funding has declined sharply. The city received about $301,000 in fiscal year 2012, and was budgeted to receive about $430,000 this year.
Maryland officials cut local transportation funding to help address a state budget shortfall, and have since used it as a means of covering gaps in the budget instead of distributing it to jurisdictions.
Frederick County faces a similar road maintenance backlog, asking the state for $169 million to help relieve congestion and improve safety on the area’s major highways.
The city’s other three requests include legislation that would permit the use of electronic advertising instead of print advertising for the city’s legal notices to save money; allow the collection of fines for chronically blighted or vacant properties; and ban synthetic marijuana and its derivatives statewide.
The city banned the sale and possession of “spice” at a Nov. 1 meeting, and hopes the state will follow suit. Sen. Ron Young (D) announced last week that he planned to introduce legislation to ban the drugs statewide.
Alderman Karen Young (D) said Wednesday that she hoped the state could follow the city’s lead.
“Clearly, the state has struggled with this legislation,” Karen Young said, noting that attempts to pass it have failed in the last two years. “We are now only one of six states that doesn’t have any kind of legislation banning these substances. What we’re asking our delegation to do is to possibly support it and bring legislation forward.”
But it was the fiscal impact of declining highway user revenues that dominated conversation at the aldermen’s work session.
The lack of funds have been a constant source of frustration for city officials, to the tune of about $11 million in unfunded road repair and expansion projects, according to Alderman Carol Krimm (D).
“We are definitely missing our highway user revenue money here, and we can definitely do a local stimulus with our money,” Krimm said.
Krimm said it is important to Frederick, but she pointed out that the cuts have affected smaller municipalities even more because road funding provides a greater portion of their revenue.
Alderman Michael O’Connor (D) agreed, emphasizing that getting more revenue for road repair was a major goal for the city.
“The needs don’t stop,” he said. “They keep going, and when you fall behind, it gets harder and harder to catch up. ... In a growing community, when we know we’re going to be adding new roads to the inventory on an annual basis, you have to maintain the existing ones. At some point it’s a vicious cycle.”
Alderman Shelley Aloi (R) also voiced concerns about the city’s roads. She said if Frederick had received the same level of funding as it did before revenue was cut, the city would have completed most of the road projects that are unfinished.
“When citizens are driving around on roads that are inferior, we have to make it clear that we haven’t received these highway user revenues intended for that maintenence.”