As we noted earlier this week, results from a Davis Downtown survey suggest that the city of Davis may lack the support to pass its parcel tax that would fund roads and other infrastructure maintenance.
Our analysis suggests that while the respondents, particularly the Vanguard readers, are found to be highly aware of the issues, even that group only poll at 63% support for the $150 a year parcel tax, leaving it shy of a two-thirds majority.
For the entire survey, 51% support the tax. If you remove Vanguard respondents, far less than half support a measure that requires a two-thirds majority.
Perhaps despite claims about knowledge, the voters simply are unaware of the magnitude of the problem. There is a sense that the city is trying to swallow too much at once on the road plan and that the council should plan carefully and prioritize in order to space out the expenditures over a greater period of time.
But how many people were really paying attention last May when the council unanimously approved the funding and budgeting strategy for pavement maintenance, in concept, for the multi-year effort in which a huge amount of money would be spent up front with smaller ongoing payments?
The plan came with a concession that the city will have to reduce its Pavement Condition Index (PCI) goal normally set at about 70 to 63 on average, with higher scores and better pavement on arterials and main thoroughfares, and lower scores on lesser used residential streets.
In his presentation, City Manager Steve Pinkerton told the council, “Regardless of the 20-year maintenance scenario chosen, funding paving up-front will reduce the City’s backlog and future expenses.”
“Budget projections have assumed future costs of $2 million to $4 million annually for infrastructure. Incurring $25 million in capital costs over the next two years would translate into $2 million annually in debt payments,” he said. “Additional annual funds dedicated towards pavement would need to come from growth in existing revenue, new revenue or cutting of other programs.”
The amounts here are staggering. Here were the options that the city manager put before council.
The key thing to remember is that the more the council was able to front load, the less impacted costs would be by the 8% pavement inflation factor.
But there is a second factor here aside from the impact of 8% inflation for pavement, as opposed to the 3% or so inflation that is more typically reflected in the PCI. The problem has to do with the exponentially increasing costs of repair as the road surface decays.
Joe Krovoza, in his state of the city address, identifies the problem of deferred maintenance on pavement. “When pavement is in good condition, when it’s at maybe 40 percent of its life, you can maybe spend four dollars to $7.50 per square yard to slurry seal it or cap seal it,” he explained. “It doesn’t cost that much to keep it in good shape.”
“But if you wait until pavement is at 75% or 90% of its life, then the costs just become tremendous – $26-$27 per square yard, $61 per square yard when you get up into the 90% level,” he noted. “The city council has worked very hard to figure out where we’re going to find money so that we can repair our roads as soon as possible so that these costs don’t multiply.”
He estimates that we should be spending about $5 million to really get on top of the problem with our roads, but with current budget projections, “that is a lot of money, that’s well over 10% (of the current general fund budget). So we’re putting something around $2.5 million away to begin to stop the deterioration of our roads but it’s not going to begin to be as far as we want to go. It’s the best that we can do now.”
The problem is that we’re not doing that. The sales tax that is on the ballot stripped out about $1.5 million in funding for roads, leaving it at about $1 million. If you want to see the impact of that change, look at the charts above.
Without the passage of a parcel tax, we are looking for a tremendously increased charge to even maintain roads at their current level.
All of this now illustrates the misplaced concern about the POU. The way the city has currently proposed financing the study is at the rate of about $600,000 which the city is borrowing from the enterprise fund. The payback over the next ten years will come to about $66,000.
Many have argued that this is not the right time to pursue this. Maybe so, but I think we need to come up with a much better reason to oppose the plan than the relatively modest costs.
By 2018, the city projects that their wastewater and water utilities will use about $6 million per year in electricity. Even a 10% savings rate would generate a savings of about $600,000 per year. And that 10% savings level is about half of the actual projected savings.
In other words, the city is looking to spend $600,000 over the next ten years in hopes of being able to save at $600,000 per year just on water energy costs. Never mind the general fund savings for city projects, never mind the savings to the ratepayers.
Many of the opponents are concerned about the city squandering those savings on green power endeavors, but that misunderstands where the money is coming from. The city hopes to use about $4.3 million in funding generated by the community for the Public Purpose program that PG&E currently uses elsewhere as a way to better develop its green power infrastructure.
None of that comes from the current costs or savings generated by the POU.
It is unfortunate that the city stepped on its own messaging and allowed PG&E to frame the issues.
As we can see in an article that many may have missed because the Vanguard was down, a PG&E and IBEW Poll found that Davis residents were opposed to the POU.
The results of this poll, which was questioned and scrutinized at the time, purportedly show strong support for PG&E and opposition to the city taking over the utility.
A press release from IBEW found: “A plurality of voters – 47% – said they would probably or definitely vote no on a ballot measure to create a new utility, with only 34% saying they would probably or definitely vote yes. Just over half of voters said they are not confident in the city of Davis’s ability to manage an electric utility.”
“Davis voters see through the false promises,” said Hunter Stern, Business Representative for IBEW 1245, which commissioned the poll. “Politicians promise green power at no greater cost. But voters understand that’s just empty rhetoric.”
The poll was taken in late February by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, a nationally respected firm, and was comprised of 400 telephone interviews with voters in the city of Davis.
“Davis deserves safe, reliable power that is truly green,” Mr. Stern said. “This plan is not it, and voters know it.”
If we believe the polling results, the residents of Davis are opposing huge savings on electricity as well as funding road maintenance. If both results hold, the cost of electricity may be the least of our problems. The crisis of roads is very real and if Davis resident do not generate a funding stream, the charts above show exactly where we are headed.
—David M. Greenwald reporting