The council this week voted to delay the parcel tax consideration until the spring. Given the polling that came out last week, that seems like a reasonable strategy. The public unfortunately, as we have read in comments, letters to the editor and now the poll, clearly needs additional information about the roads before it will be willing to agree to additional taxes.
As we have mentioned previously, it is unfortunate that the council merely attempted within its sales tax to prevail on that specific issue, rather than do the heavy lifting to make the broader case.
Councilmember Brett Lee, on Tuesday, attempted to craft a compromise with a small parcel tax for roads, bike paths and sidewalks in November. While Councilmember Lee believed that the small parcel tax would enable the city to be able to bond for up to $20 million, we believe that strategy falls well short of what the city really needs for roads in the long term.
There is also the effort to attempt to get more than one bite at the apple, which we believe would actually make it less likely for the city to get further revenue. The city needs to be up front with how much these repairs will cost and lay out to the public in a clear and transparent way how we got to this point and why we are in such bad shape.
At the same time, we believe Councilmember Lee is partially right in terms of separating needs from wants. However, we believe it is a mistake for the city to expend time and energy to analyze city needs other than roads.
One big problem that the city faces is how much the cost of roads is likely to go up in the near future. We have discussed this at length, but it bears repeating. Over the last 20 years the cost of asphalt has grown exponentially. The city projects a future increase of 8% per year just for asphalt, which is nearly three times the rate of inflation.
And, while it is true that over the last 18 months the price of asphalt has flattened, the historic trend suggests that is a blip on the radar. Asphalt costs correlate with the cost of oil, and most economists are projecting a large increase in those costs.
But, more than just that, we know that as roadways deteriorate the costs increase from very manageable maintenance costs per yard of under $10, and they increase very rapidly to nearly $100 per yard. In other words, as conditions decline, the costs are likely to triple and then increase up to ten-fold. That is how we go from $100 million to over $400 million in maintenance needs fairly rapidly.
There is no other need that has this vicious an increase in cost.
The council needs to address roads first and foremost. None of the other list of needs have this level of accelerated pay cost. Park play equipment does not carry with it such a steep increase in cost and does not depreciate in an accelerated rate each year like roadways.
Other needs can be addressed in ways that are not tied to new taxes. For example, the council may not be considering the fact that Cannery and some of the other developments that are coming on line pay development impact fees which can provide funding for parks, play equipment, street signals, fire stations and other city buildings.
In addition, the council needs to start looking outside of the box to find creative ways to fund replacement of these other amenities. In the present condition, however, with a placeholder interim city manager, it is unlikely that the council has the expertise around it to think outside of the box. That is one reason a new city manager – and a good one – is desperately needed.
The community often balks at the high pay grade for city managers, but a good city manager who costs even $300,000 may well save the city and its taxpayers ten times that money per year.
The city needs to be looking at public-private partnerships, foundation dollars and increased fees for services as ways to fund a new pool.
One idea would be to take the current civic center site, redevelop it and use the proceeds to fund a new project elsewhere. To fund a new pool, we could do a capital campaign with the swim groups and consolidate the smaller pools into a large pool, thus not only combining resources but reducing operating costs.
The city already has most of the funding needed for the fire station upgrade. That was the money that the city was going to use to relocate the central fire station to the north, an idea discarded by the new chief, concerned about the loss of coverage around the central fire station. The money that we do not have can be generated from new fees from the Cannery.
The bottom line, the city needs new roadways desperately. Waiting from November to March is not a huge deal, but we need to put up the money for roads and think outside of the box to find funding for pools, parks and the fire station.
None of this happens, of course, without a new city manager who can help the council to think outside of that box. This week the city moved forward on the business parks that will generate new revenue down the line, putting to rest the water issue.
However, it punted on the parcel tax and needs to focus heavily on a new city manager to have in place by the time council reconvenes in August.
—David M. Greenwald reporting