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Want better roads? Open your wallet

POSTED March 12, 2013 9:50 p.m.

There is a general consensus that Turlock’s streets are in need of some repair. The question now is if Turlock’s citizens are willing to help pay for the repairs and if so, how will the funds be generated.

During a special meeting Tuesday night the Turlock City Council heard a status update on the city’s road conditions and delved further into the issue of how the repairs can be funded.

In the upcoming months the city hopes to hold a series of town hall meetings to discuss the issue and specifically address funding options that include a sales tax increase or a citywide assessment district that would amount to a parcel tax.

“We want to make sure we are headed in a direction our constituents are comfortable with,” said Councilmember Steven Nascimento.

The City Council previously approved commissioning Nichols Consulting Engineers for a Pavement Management Project, which is an in-depth analysis of the city’s network of roads. The PMP generates a Pavement Condition Index, which gives each street a rating from 0 to 100.

The city is signing onto the survey as part of a larger scope of work being undertaken by the Stanislaus Council of Governments.

Turlock’s last PMP was conducted in 2008. In that survey Turlock had an average PCI of 59, which put it in the mid range of the “Satisfactory” category.

In that same report it was recommended the city would need to spend $144.9 million through 2013 to reach a PCI in the low to mid 80s. To keep Turlock’s streets at the status quo PCI of 59, the report stated the city would need to spend about $9 million annually on repairs and maintenance. That amount has now been adjusted to $10 million said Director of Development Services and City Engineer Michael Pitcock.

The city engineering department has been funded about $2 million for street improvements. Of that, $750,000 comes from federal funds, which are usually limited to arterial road improvements. Another $750,000 comes from State 2103 funds and $500,000 is collected from assessment districts. Since the 1990s, all new subdivisions and commercial enterprises have had to pay assessment fees, which in part, are used to fund regular preventive street maintenance. By law these funds have to be spent within the assessment district and cannot be used in other neighborhoods.

“There are restrictions on where the dollars can be used and the dollars available,” said City Manager Roy Wasden.

The cost of fixing a road with only minor issues is an estimated 46 cents per square foot, Pitcock said. Repairing or reconstructing a road with major issues can cost an estimated $5.60 per square foot.

“It’s important to get to the roads in the ‘good’ stage because it costs less money,” Pitcock said. “We get more bang for our buck.”

One funding option raised would be to create a citywide assessment district that would be funded by a parcel tax. According to the engineering department’s estimate, an average lot would have an assessment fee of about $400 in order to reach the $10 million needed to keep the roads in the satisfactory range.

It was suggested the parcel tax could be based on square footage, which would save the average homeowner money, but would hit large landowners, such as ranchers and farmers, particularly hard. However, William Berry from WB Campaigns, a political and communications consulting firm, pointed out that an appeals court recently ruled against tiered-taxation, which effectively negates the square footage option.

Another funding option is to increase the sales tax by a half cent and devote the revenue solely toward road improvements.

“No one likes the idea of new taxes, but our roads are deteriorating and we need to find the funding,” Mayor John Lazar said.

The engineering department estimates a sales tax increase would generate about $5 million a year that could be used to repair the roads.

Sales tax increased to fund road repair has been taken on at county levels in the state, but Turlock would be the first city in California to attempt it, Berry said.

“You’d be charting new waters,” Berry said.

Both funding options would paint Turlock as a “self-help community,” which, Pitcock explained helps the city score better on grant applications that could bring in additional revenue.

Any funding from new taxes would need voter approval.

The city hopes to have the first town hall meeting scheduled in the next 90 days.

 

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