Money sought for street repairs - Morgan Hill Times: City Local Government

Money sought for street repairs

Upcoming budget discussions will consider local tax, cutting services

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Posted: Friday, May 10, 2013 6:00 am

Many of Morgan Hill’s streets are in such bad shape that the City needs to find about $2.4 million more per year just to return maintenance activities to a “safe and sustainable” rate and begin making improvements to existing roads, according City staff.

City Council members have some options where to get that sum of money which would more than double the current street infrastructure maintenance budget from about $1.7 million to about $4.1 million.

But all those options would require such drastic changes for taxpayers that the Council’s first step is to make sure residents are aware of the street repair needs, which are spelled out in a recent local study. The City will then determine if residents want to spend more money for smoother, safer roads.

The City commissioned consultant Rick Mauck to conduct an extensive study of the current condition of all of the City’s streets infrastructure, which includes sidewalks, street lights, traffic lights, medians, planters, parking lots, storm drains and trees. The lengthy report showing the results of the study was presented to the Council Wednesday.

“The City’s valuable streets infrastructure has not been sustainably maintained in the recent past due to funding reductions imposed by City budget limitations and the elimination of the City’s Redevelopment Agency,” which used to partially fund the City’s street maintenance budget before it was closed by the state last year, according to the staff report from Morgan Hill Program Administrator Anthony Eulo.

If street maintenance continues at its current level, the City is likely to see continuing deterioration of the streets, a growing demand from residents for more maintenance and “deferred maintenance growth” from about $14 million to $21 million by 2016, according to the report.

For example, for each dollar the City spends on maintenance of streets when they’re new and in their best condition, the City can save up to $10 they would otherwise spend on rehabilitation or reconstruction when a street becomes riddled with holes and cracks, Morgan Hill Program Administrator Anthony Eulo said.

Now the Council has to figure out where to get $2.4 million per year, or more (up to $6.3 million per year) if they want to upgrade the streets to what the consultant terms an “excellent” condition.

One option is a local tax, which requires voter approval.

“One of the avenues I would be willing to propose is the consideration of a sales tax measure, because it is broadly spread across everybody who uses the infrastructure,” including visitors, Vice Mayor Gordon Siebert said. “But it would be premature to propose any tax at this point until we’ve done a really good job of getting this information (from Mauck’s study) out so people can ask questions about it. (But) it’s only going to get more costly if we ignore it.”

Overall, Mauck’s study gave the City’s street infrastructure network a “pavement condition index” of 76, or in the “very good” range. But the report noted that segments of some City streets, such as Watsonville Road, fall to the “poor” range.

Morgan Hill resident Santanu Gupta lives off Watsonville Road, and he travels over the rapidly deteriorating road at least twice a day.

“My car rattles and bumps when I go (on Watsonville Road). It reminds me of the potholes in India,” said Gupta, who has not seen the recent streets study. “They misuse their money elsewhere, and they’re taxing us? I think they need to figure out on their own where to get the money, and not put every damn thing on the taxpayers.”

Siebert noted that the last time the City placed a local tax on the ballot - a utility tax in 2008 (to fund public safety) - it failed miserably.

Council members Wednesday asked staff to consider the full impact of possible funding options during upcoming budget deliberations. City staff plan to propose the 2013/2014 budget today, and the Council has until June 30 to adopt a budget.

“Getting more money into the rehabilitation and maintenance of our streets is going to be an important goal in this budget process,” Councilman Larry Carr said.

Another possible funding source for extra streets maintenance funding is to cut other City services such as public safety or parks maintenance. But Council members noted: they’ve been cutting those services already in recent years, and the general fund is already pretty lean at about $26 million.

“Our staff and City employees have been sacrificing for quite some time to make sure we don’t lose the services we currently enjoy,” Councilmember Rich Constantine said.

Another option to gain the money, according to City staff, is to ask property owners to create a new financing district within the City to fund street construction and maintenance activity.

Councilmembers noted that most of the City’s streets are in a decent condition, and some streets - such as Butterfield Boulevard and West Dunne Avenue - are in excellent shape.

“What we need to do is get our priorities straight (before going to the voters) and understand we’ll never have enough, but prioritize it in a way that we don’t create any kind of serious trouble or safety hazards,” Mayor Steve Tate said. “If (the voters) decide we do need to do something, we can put something on the ballot.”

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