Lack of Funds Will Put a Huge Strain on Roadways and Infrastructure

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pothole.jpgDavis residents may have to get used to those potholes, uneven pavement, and deteriorating conditions of surface streets.  Or at least that is how it looks right now.  Last week, in the introduction to the budget we reported that the city was acknowledging that there would be a reduced allocation for Street re-Pavement contracts. 

The report goes on to say that this continues to be a program area with significant under-funding.  The report calls for the need to develop long-term funding plans and likely will require significant long-term General Fund support.

The current budget workshop scheduled for Tuesday, suggested that the city will use one-time funds supplemented by a new allocation of roughly $400,000 in Roadway Impact Fees in support of needed street and roadway rehabilitation programs.

That turns out to be the good news.  The bad news is that the city has been running a deficit on needed road repairs for some time.  It is estimated that the city should spend roughly $2 million annually to keep up with needed road repairs and bring the road conditions in Davis up to what is considered industry standard.  The city through the use of one-time state and federal funds has been operating on a $800,000 budget.  That annual $1.2 million deficit has been assigned into the unmet need category.

The city would argue that the industry standards are somewhat akin to having five minute response times for the fire department, it is a goal that will probably not be met.  I would counter that failure to meet five minute response times do not result in an accumulating response deficit, whereas the shortfall of $1.2 million on an annual basis will result over time in the further deterioration of streets and roadways.

The news gets worse apparently, because after this current fiscal year, the city will have no more one-time monies.  Apparently that $400,000 is an injection of general fund monies for the first time, but that likely leaves us for 2011-12 at $400,000 of a needed $2 million expenditure.

The question is really what that means?  That is unclear.  The first question is to determine what our current pavement conditions are and what they need to be.

The second question is where future funding is going to come from.  From my conversations with Paul Navazio, the answer would appear to be general fund, which means that pavement and road repair might become an increasingly large drain on the general fund whereas previous the city relied on state and federal monies.

The staff report for Tuesday includes a letter from City Manager Bill Emlen talking about the long-term challenges.

He writes, “Recent state budgets have included proposals to borrow local property tax revenues, re-direct local transportation funding for State purposes, and questionable raids on Redevelopment Agency tax-increment revenues. While we anticipate these threats to persist, we are hopeful that a statewide initiative being placed on the November ballot by a coalition led by the League of California Cities will provide local government with additional protections in this regard.”

Ever the optimist, Mr. Emlen is either counting on or at least hopeful that a statewide initiative will stop the bleeding of local dollars.  History suggests that is unlikely.  First, the state has repeatedly tried to ignore or find loopholes around previous initiatives.  Second, the state’s lack of funding, should it continue, will necessitate it finding other sources of revenue.

The long and the short of it is that unless the state turns around economically and thus starts producing revenue, the state legislature and Governor will continue to attempt to find ways to siphon off available funding.

Mr. Emlen hits on a more somber and less hopeful note, “It is clear that regardless of the extent of any pending economic recovery, local governments – including the City of Davis – must adapt to a new reality, be it to secure and strengthen a reliable base of revenues in support of public services, advance efforts to regain local control of the state-fiscal relationship, improve management of program and personnel expenditures, and look for new ways to provide for basic, core services.”

It thus does not seem likely that we will return to the days of double-digit property tax revenue growth any time soon if ever.  We must be much more conservative in our future projections.  And the city has left itself vulnerable with past practices and the failure to give much in the way of flexibility.

The much ballyhooed 15% reserve is one-time money that really only represents emergency funding.  It does not provide a real source of cushion or an ongoing funding source.

The city leadership has talked about protecting public safety, but road and pavement conditions are in fact public safety.  As these conditions deteriorate, there is an increased likelihood of accidents and with those accidents injury and safety.

To this point however, the city has not done a good job of laying out what the conditions are with our roadways and other infrastructure, what our real level of need is, and where we can get those funding levels on an ongoing basis.  One-time monies should not be used for ongoing funding, but rather for special one-time projects.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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8 thoughts on “Lack of Funds Will Put a Huge Strain on Roadways and Infrastructure”

  1. E Roberts Musser

    “Mr. Emlen hits on a more somber and less hopeful note, “It is clear that regardless of the extent of any pending economic recovery, local governments – including the City of Davis – must adapt to a new reality, be it to secure and strengthen a reliable base of revenues in support of public services, advance efforts to regain local control of the state-fiscal relationship, improve management of program and personnel expenditures, and look for new ways to provide for basic, core services.””

    I suspect the statement by Emlen “the City of Davis – must adapt to a new reality, be it to secure and strengthen a reliable base of revenues in support of public services” is “paving the way” to institute a new “public safety tax” to cover the budget shortfall inre street maintenance.

  2. Rich Rifkin

    [i]”… that likely leaves us for 2011-12 at $400,000 of a needed $2 million expenditure.”[/i]

    I think that $2 million annual figure includes sidewalk and street repairs. What I think the city should consider — because as you say this problem is accumulating — is to transfer responsibility for sidewalk repair from the city to individual property owners, save cases where unusual city activities [i]cause[/i] a premature deterioration in the sidewalks.

    I don’t know what most cities do with sidewalks. However, I know in Sacramento, the repairs to sidewalks are the responsibility of individual property owners. I wish we didn’t have to do this in Davis. But if it’s the only way to get dangerous sidewalks repaired and it free up funds for the city to maintain the streets, I would support it.

    I should note that a change in this policy might negatively affect me. Our sidewalks are still in fine shape. However, the roots of our hackberry tree have lifted the sidewalk somewhat over the years. Now when it rains, the water does not flow down to the storm drain two houses west of mine. It just puddles.

  3. westof113

    “the City of Davis …….. is “paving the way” to institute a new “public safety tax” to cover the budget shortfall inre street maintenance.

    The fact of the matter is our streets and highways are fast becoming “third-world” roadways and we all pay every day for those deplorable road conditions with increased automobile maintenance and repair and a less-healthy environment. Tires and shocks wear out faster, alignments are required more frequently, cars lose resale value with chipped paint and rattles, higher-volume road noise assaults hearing and there are more shocks per mile to the travelers’ spinal cords, just to mention some of the by-products of our ‘third-world” roads. And there has long been an established correlation between poorly-maintained roadways and accidents. I think it was the old oil change TV commercial that said “You can pay me now or pay me later.”, with the inference being that later would be much more expensive. I think that is the case here. We can each pay a little more tax now or we can pay a lot more over time for auto repair, depreciation, chiropractors and such.

    I can think of no better examples of “commonwealth” than schools and roadways. I think this should be an utmost priority of all levels of government.

  4. wdf1

    How much does it cost to fix a single “standard” pothole on a residential street? on a main thoroughfare (like Covell or Russell)? if anything, what is a ballpark price?

  5. rusty49

    “How much does it cost to fix a single “standard” pothole on a residential street? on a main thoroughfare (like Covell or Russell)? if anything, what is a ballpark price?”

    Like most public or union jobs it will take seven workers, one to fill the hole and six leaning on their shovels watching.

  6. E Roberts Musser

    westof113: “We can each pay a little more tax now or we can pay a lot more over time for auto repair, depreciation, chiropractors and such.”

    DPD: “The city through the use of one-time state and federal funds has been operating on a $800,000 budget. That annual $1.2 million deficit has been assigned into the unmet need category.”

    By placing basic needs in the “unmet need” category, then declaring a “balanced budget”, the city has done a slight of hand. They are paying for frills like a $400,000 battalion chief model for the Fire Dept., while deferring basics like road repair. In effect, a new “public safety tax” is going to pay for the battalion chief model for the Fire Dept. rather than road repairs. How many potholes could have been repaired for the $400,000 set aside for the Fire Dept.?

    This is the problem with “paving the way” for new taxes – and believe me, once instituted, those “new taxes” will never disappear, but will be supplemented and added to with other new taxes for other things the city conveniently dumps into the “unmet need” category.

  7. rusty49

    That’s the problem, our local gov’t just like the gang in Washington claim that it’s a budget problem which requires new taxation when the real problem is it’s actually a “SPENDING PROBLEM”. Budget properly, just like we all have to do at home, and the problem is solved.

  8. E Roberts Musser

    rusty49: “That’s the problem, our local gov’t just like the gang in Washington claim that it’s a budget problem which requires new taxation when the real problem is it’s actually a “SPENDING PROBLEM”. Budget properly, just like we all have to do at home, and the problem is solved.”

    Amen!

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