PAYING FOR ROADS
There are three mechanisms that pay for roads:
Federal Grant Dollars - Money that is distributed from the federal government to the states which is then allocated to local Council of Governments. The Stanislaus Council of Governments, which includes nine cities and the county itself, then distributes the money. On average, the City of Turlock receives $750,000 annually.
Gas Tax Funding - There are two areas:
• Dollars that go towards routine maintenance and are overseen by the Parks, Recreation, and Public Facilities Department. These funds are used to fix potholes, restripe lane lines, fix crosswalks, add new signs, and other maintenance features.
• 2103 Gas Tax dollars (formerly Proposition 42) - An excise tax that, after recent reformulating by the state government, has declined the City of Turlock's funds from roughly $600,000 annually in the past three to four years to an anticipated $370,000 for 2015-2016. This is also partly due to the decline in the price of gas at the pump.
Assessment Districts - Established in the 1990s, today roughly 30 to 35 percent of residential subdivisions in Turlock are in these districts and pay an extra tax for maintenance. Services typically include power and maintenance of street lighting, street sweeping, public landscaping maintenance associated with the subdivision and master plan, as well as slurry seals every seven years. Slurry seals are a mixture of sand, gravel, water, and oil that dries in six hours. It adds a layer of a wearing surface to the street and rejuvenates the old asphalt with a little bit of oil. It is known as a "life extender process" for the streets.
It’s a common complaint in Turlock: Why is their road being fixed and not mine?
Director of Development Services Mike Pitcock fielded questions about Turlock’s roads from concerned citizens at the City’s February workshop on Local Roads, Interchanges, and Corridors, just one of a series instated by Mayor Gary Soiseth as part of his 100 day plan. Unsurprisingly, those questions being asked are the same ones cropping up at later workshops, demonstrating how integral the roads are to citizens’ daily lives in Turlock.
No matter which road citizens are most concerned about, the City of Turlock has to have the money to fix it and that funding is diminishing.
"Under the current established funding our road network is going to decline," said Pitcock.
The poor quality of roads in Turlock has been a topic of conversation for some time, especially for those disappointed by the failure of the proposed half-cent sales tax for roads that failed in November’s election. While a county tax is a point of conversation at the Stanislaus Council of Governments, in the meantime the City of Turlock has to make do with what it has which, like other agencies in the state, is quite restricted funding.
“A lot of people think it's one big pot of money, but there are a lot of rules with government spending,” explained Pitcock.
The City of Turlock funds its road repairs through three different avenues: federal grant dollars, gas tax funds, and assessment districts.
Gas tax dollars are subdivided into two categories. One portion goes towards routine maintenance that is overseen by the Parks, Recreation, and Public Facilities Department to fix pot holes, restripe lane lines, maintain crosswalks, add new signs and more. The other portion, known as the 2103 fund, is utilized by Pitcock’s department to use as the City sees fit.
"That is one of the great things about those dollars is we can use the 2103 funds on local streets, we can use them on arterials and collectors, we can use them on everything," explained Pitcock.
However, there is one caveat: because of its flexible spending nature, the gas tax funding is almost always used to match federal funding awarded to the City.
When the City of Turlock receives federal grant dollars to fix roads they are required to match that grant money with a portion of their own funds. While the ideal ratio is closer to 87 percent federal grant dollars with the City pitching in the remaining 13 percent, Pitcock said it is very difficult to identify precisely how much road work can be accomplished with the funding. As a precaution, the City aims to set the scope of the work slightly over the amount of federal funding to capture all the grant money possible. This does, however, in turn increase the amount the City must contribute to the project.
"Long story short, we use the 2103 dollars almost exclusively to match the federal dollars," explained Pitcock. "While we can use them anywhere, we’re obligated to match that federal funding so we use it in that way."
The amount of gas tax dollars the City of Turlock will receive is set to decline for the 2015-2016 fiscal year as the State of California has reformulated the way agencies receive funds. This, combined with the drop in price of gas at the pump, means gas tax funding allocated to the City will be roughly $370,000. In the past three to four years that amount was upwards of $600,000.
In order to use those dollars the best they can, Pitcock said the City has intentionally selected arterial roads for repair as they are traversed by the majority of the population. Notable recent work includes parts of Monte Vista Avenue, Fulkerth Road, East Main Street, and Colorado Avenue.
"We chose those roads with the idea that most people will utilize them in their daily lives. So, while your local street may not be improved you will at least get the benefit of your local arterial being improved for when you run errands, take your kids to school and those kinds of things,” said Pitock. “We can hopefully allow everyone to benefit from those limited dollars.”
Each year the City receives roughly $750,000 from the Stanislaus Council of Governments as part of federal grant money which is helpful, but far from enough to overhaul Turlock roads.
“The Monte Vista Avenue overlay between Geer road and Crowell Road cost $1.1 million,” said Pitcock.
So, what about local roads?
Most citizens who vocalize concerns at public workshops remark on the quality of the road they live on, lamenting the potholes and cracks leading up to their driveway. This is an indicator that the resident may be living in an older part of Turlock or at least not in an assessment district.
Created in the 1990s as a maintenance mechanism, those that live in assessment districts pay an additional tax to have their roads maintained. Services typically include power and maintenance of street lighting, street sweeping, and public landscaping maintenance associated with the subdivision and master plan, as well as slurry seals to the streets.
Slurry seals are a mixture of sand, gravel, water and oil that dries in six hours. It adds a layer of a wearing surface to the street and rejuvenates the old asphalt with the oil. Known as a “life extender process,” a slurry seal every seven years can prolong the life of a street significantly.
There are 192 Assessment Districts in Turlock, 159 are residential subdivisions and 33 are for industrial or commercial businesses. Those who live in assessment districts are the minority as Pitcock estimates that 30 to 35 percent of residential parcels are in assessment districts.
The tax residents pay varies and some older districts may have a limited service and pay a lesser tax. More recently established districts are tied to an index, determined by the Engineering News Record, which accounts for cost of living or inflation. The ENR was incorporated into districts starting in the late 1990s.
While Pitcock said he has had individuals volunteer their assessment district tax money for the City to utilize to fix other roads that need more significant repair, unfortunately, that is not how government spending works.
“Those funds that are paid for by those individuals have to be used in that subdivision or that district. It is against the law for me to take those dollars and spend them elsewhere and that’s one of the things I think some people don’t always realize about assessment districts,” explained Pitcock. “What they see is the City continuing to fix roads that are in good shape when what we are really doing is maintaining the quality of that road because they paid for that service.”
A typical road lasts 20 years but those in assessment districts can last up to 40 or 50 due to the maintenance measures taken early on in the road’s life to keep it in good condition.
"It’s kind of counterintuitive because you would think you want to fix the roads in the worst condition first,” explained Pitcock.
However, full road reconstructions are extremely expensive. Therefore, the goal is to keep good roads in good condition, elevate mediocre roads to good condition through processes like slurry seals which extend their life, and reserve the roads that are beyond repair for full reconstruction when funding is available.
“It makes the most economic sense to keep the roads you have in good condition and bring the other roads, as you have funding, into that good condition area so you can maintain them as well," said Pitcock.