The city must get a handle on funding improvements for deteriorating streets or face a virtual collapse according to a former public works director and alderman.
Ed Gass addressed aldermen during the public hearing to pass the 2017-18 budget Oct. 3. He said the budget should not be approved without more funds for streets.
“Before you pass this current budget you need to squeeze more money in for street repairs,” he said.
Gass, who served for more than 20 years as public works commissioner, said the $250,000 in this year’s budget for street maintenance is not enough.
“We were getting that amount back in 1979 and ’80,” Gass said.
Gass said the city streets are falling apart and the city is not doing anything to fix them. He said winter is coming, the street toppings are old and wearing out.
The budget, which was approved later in the meeting, included a $250,000 line item for street repairs, which City Administrator Steve Roth said was a one-time allocation for street.
Roth said he agreed with Gass that more money was needed for streets. He said in his opinion the absence of funding for street repairs created a gaping hole in the budget.
He said the $250,000 this year was possible because of a reserve in the capital improvement sales tax fund but it would not be possible to repeat the allocation for streets in future budgets.
“Going forward there is no source of revenue for street improvement,” Roth said. “It is an issue for the city.”
Roth said the city could authorize a transportation sales tax. One way to do that would be to amend the city’s three CIDs (community improvement districts), which now collect a 1-cent sales tax. Roth said the CIDs could be amended to collect a one-half cent tax and ask voters to approve the other half cent as a transportation sales tax.
“If the CID taxes have lived their useful life they could be reduced to revenue neutral,” Roth said.
Gass said some immediate action is called for.
“We bought a $42,000 crack-filling machine and I don’t think a single crack has been filled since it was bought,” Gass said. “As soon as it gets cold that crack-filling machine should be out every day.”
Public Works Commissioner Robert Brueggemann said there is money in the materials budget for his department to buy materials and start filling cracks.
Gass also said officials are ignoring an engineering study that was paid for with taxpayer money to craft a street maintenance plan.
“The city spent money for an engineering firm to tell us what to do (on street repairs),” Gass said. “We ought to follow that.”
Throughout 2014 Mayor Jeff Palmore grappled with how to schedule street repairs in the most efficient way. He asked aldermen to hire Cochran Engineering to survey city streets and make recommendations.
“We have to have a method to prioritize and do the worst repairs first,” Mayor Jeff Palmore said. “Some of them should be done ‘yesterday.’”
The city entered into a $16,800 contract with the engineering firm Cochran to craft a street pavement plan.
At the Jan. 20, 2015, board meeting, Dave Christiansen, Cochran, presented the plan to aldermen but he said he could not finish the plan until the city committed the funds.
In a preliminary spreadsheet projecting the cost for the next nine years.
Christiansen said the city needed to spend a total of $4,381,994, approximately $500,000 a year over a nine-year period.
The costs included 20 percent for resurfacing streets that would qualify for funds through THE federal Surface Transportation Program (STP). The city could apply to the East-West Gateway Council of Governments for the 80 percent federal funding for the work.
Christiansen suggested the city could float a bond issue for the repairs but Alderman Ed Gass said the city could not afford to repay $4.4 million in bonds.
Christiansen said if the city did undertake the work recommended in the plan, city streets should be in good shape.
Alderman Mike Pigg said he has asked two meetings ago to bring the Cochran report back for aldermen to reconsider.
“Let’s bring back that report and take a look at it,” Pigg said.
Roth said he had looked at the Cochran report recently and knew the city was in no position to fund it but he said he would distribute copies to aldermen.