Advisory group presents road maintenance alternatives

Published on Thu, May 23, 2002 by Meg Olson

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Advisory group presents road maintenance alternatives

By Meg Olson

“We didn’t come up with any silver bullets for you, but there’s been a lot of thought, effort and insight,” said Blaine city assistant public works director Steve Banham, presenting the recommendations of the advisory committee on street maintenance, or MOST, committee.

The ten-person committee made up of local business owners, property owners and residents, has met five times since March, reviewing the city’s program to maintain streets and developing recommendations on how to improve it and how to pay for it. On May 20, they told city council the city needs to boost its street maintenance program and find new ways to pay for it.

“The consensus was that maintaining streets is important to the community,” Banham said. “There was especially concern from people who have invested in streets through local improvement districts who now see their investments literally eroding.”

The committee evaluated three levels of service for roads, starting with the paving industry standard, which recommends crack sealing paved roads every five years and repaving every 15 years. To maintain all city roads at this level would cost $318,000 a year beyond the $600,000 annual street operations budget, which includes everything from potholes to street sweeping. By waiting longer to seal or repave roads, the committee developed a second level of service, which dropped the cost per year to an extra $265,000. They also looked at a lower level, at $134,820, which would stop asphalt maintenance on all but arterials and collectors and replace other paved streets with cheaper chip-seal. “That’s what it would take if we only had $134,000 per year – chipsealing all our smooth new roads.” said public works director Grant Stewart.

The city also collects an additional $350,000 from taxpayers through the residential street levy, which expires in 2006. Those funds are specifically earmarked for debt service and capital improvements of the city’s residential streets – they paid for improvements to downtown residential streets over the last 10 years but the city can’t use the money to maintain the streets it rebuilds.

The committee recommended a combination of all three service levels to trim the budget but keep asphalt roads in good shape: arterials and collectors would get top shelf maintenance, which would be less frequent for residential streets. Existing rural chipsealed roads would stay that way and not be paved. To implement their recommendation would cost the city an extra $242,000 per year.

“There was really no way we could come up with the money for level A maintenance,” said committee member Kathleen Capson. “If we could it would save you money in the long run but it’s really a matter of finding the money now.” Stewart explained the more regular maintenance streets have, the longer they last and the longer the city could put off expensive road rebuilding.

A combination of smaller sources was recommended to fill in the funding void and pay for more street maintenance. “The committee recognized there are non-residents who use our streets and it was preferable to have a revenue package tied to use,” Banham said. Topping the list of revenue possibilities was a lift on the existing residential street levy to include maintenance dollars, a proposition which would need to go to the voters.

Other options included transferring the cost of street lighting to the electric utility, where it would become part of rates, thereby freeing up $34,000 a year in the street maintenance and operations fund.

Increasing the city gambling tax, increasing tax on cable TV companies and a business and occupation tax on gross sales similar to that levied by the city of Bellingham were also considered. “What may need to happen in a larger sense is to figure out where street maintenance stands with everything else. Some other things the city does may need to be cut,” said committee member David Gagnon. “Maintaining streets is a core function of city government.”

Banham said the committee was still looking for “out-of-the-box” creative funding options. “Why don’t we approach a big insurance company and sell them naming rights,” suggested city council member Mike Myers. “How about Safeco Street?”

The committee recommendation will be on the agenda at community meetings, planned for 7 p.m. June 4 at the Blaine Senior Center and June 6 at the Semiahmoo fire station. They will be officially incorporated into the six-year transportation plan which council will consider at a public hearing planned for June 10. That plan will rank street projects for 2003-2008 and consider the option of a replacement for the residential street levy in 2007 that might incorporate language to address maintenance concerns.

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