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How to pay for pavement?

Dallas committee recommending bond, fee for upkeep of city streets

From left, Ray Olmstead, Rich Wolcott and Pete Christensen, members of a committee that studied options for street maintenance, demonstrate a street in need of repair.

Photo by Jolene Guzman

From left, Ray Olmstead, Rich Wolcott and Pete Christensen, members of a committee that studied options for street maintenance, demonstrate a street in need of repair.

January 14, 2014

DALLAS — $10 million and a street utility fee.

That is the recommendation of a citizens committee for residential street upkeep in Dallas.

The 10-year, $10 million bond could be placed on the ballot as soon as next year — the Dallas City Council has yet to vote on it — and the fee would come three to five years after, but only if voters approve a bond.

The Citizens' Advisory Committee for Residential Street Funding has been researching the issue since June 2012. Chairman Pete Christensen presented the committee's official recommendation Jan. 6 during the council's monthly workshop meeting.

If approved, the bond would cost taxpayers $1.35 per $1,000 of assessed value on properties. Committee members believed it would be the city's best option.

"The committee tried to balance the improvements need in a bond issue, whether the resulting tax rate could be 'affordable' to our citizens, and the likelihood our citizens would support a proposed levy," the committee's final report read.

The other options included a 20-year, $21 million bond — the estimated cost to fix all streets needing repair — a 20-year, $12 million to $15 million bond, or a $10 million bond that would pay for a thin overlay on all streets.

Christensen said 20 years would be too long a payoff time — after that much time most streets need significant repair. Bond amounts of more than $10 million were considered too expensive and thin overlays would not fix streets in poor condition, he said.

Christensen also stressed another point at the meeting: "You need to place that on the ballot as soon as possible because the cost (for repair) goes up the longer you wait," he said.

The city estimates it would take $17.6 million to repair all residential streets to good condition. That figure grows to $21.1 million for all streets, including arterials and collectors.

Dallas City Manager Ron Foggin said the city would have an update to it pavement condition index — a measurement of the condition of streets — completed by an independent firm in the coming months. The most recent data is from 2009.

The city's approximately $1 million street fund has about $250,000 to $300,000 dedicated to street overlays annually. Jason Locke, Dallas' community development director, said the city has prioritized arterials and collectors for repairs. Street funding comes from state and federal sources, namely a gas tax, which is projected to remain flat, Christensen said.

The chart shows the estimated impact a 10-year, $10 million voter-approved bond would have on residential street conditions in Dallas. It also depicts what would happen to conditions with and without a street utility fee to supplement funding for continued upkeep.

Graphic by Kathy Huggins/Source: the city of Dallas

The chart shows the estimated impact a 10-year, $10 million voter-approved bond would have on residential street conditions in Dallas. It also depicts what would happen to conditions with and without a street utility fee to supplement funding for continued upkeep.

The second part of the recommendation is implementing a street fee that would collect $300,000 to $500,000 each year to pay for continued maintenance.

The council did not take action on the recommendations, but it did discuss them at length. The need for the recommendations didn't appear to be in question, at least not at this point in the process.

"There is no money, state or federal, anymore," Councilor Ken Woods Jr. said, stressing the city needed both measures to maintain its streets.

However, most councilors acknowledged if the city does move forward, it needs to do a better job of public outreach than it did in a previous attempt to implement a street utility fee in 2010. In January, 2010 the council voted to begin collecting $2.50 each month from every business or housing unit in the city. The fee was scheduled to increase $1 every year until reaching $5.50.

The fee drew immediate opposition and through voter signature campaign, was placed on the ballot in May 2010. It was soundly defeated, with 71 percent voting 'no.'

This time, it looks as though the city will be going to the voters first - if the proposal is approved -- and with what it hopes is a clearer message about the need for an infusion of money for street repairs.

"People want to know where their dollar - where their penny - is going to be spent," Councilor Jim Fairchild said, noting the city should list the streets planned for repairs.

Councilor Jackie Lawson added that voters need to be assured of not only where the money will be spent, but also that it would be used in the most cost-efficient way possible.

Foggin said the issue isn't just about streets. He said home values can suffer and overall economic development can be affected by poor roads.

"We need people to understand what a gravel road in front of their house means," he said.

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