Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sun Valley initiates street fund

Council discusses lowering nonprofit funding to fix roads


By BRENNAN REGO
Express Staff Writer

The Sun Valley City Council has voted to tentatively establish a street and path fund by increasing property-tax collections by 3 percent in the city's draft fiscal 2013 budget.

The result is an approximate $75,000 increase to the tentative budget and an approximate $300,000 decrease to the general fund. That $300,000 will be used to open the new street and path fund.

"So far, street maintenance has not been part of a plan—it's been done as needed," said Virginia Egger, interim executive assistant to the mayor, during a special meeting on Monday, July 9. "This project began in fiscal year 2010 with a plan to clean the sidewalks and chip seal the streets. I hope we'll soon be able to say, 'We do streets!' This is a must-do scenario."

The city's fiscal 2010 budget included a "separate street and path fund," Egger said during an interview. However, she said, since then, the council voted to merge that fund with the general fund.

The city plans to initiate a very efficient chip-seal street-treatment program with a five-year rotation for all city streets and paths.

"The chip seal treatment is great for extending the life of roads because it's very inexpensive," Egger said.

The 2013 budget has $224,000 for street improvements, and there's an additional $75,000 that could be generated by a 3 percent property tax increase.

"These are very reasonable numbers for a five-year rotation program that can be funded with city money," Egger told the council.

The program calls for chip-seal work to be performed perpetually on all city streets and paths following a five-year rotation.

However, a 3 percent increase in property tax might not be enough for the city to do all the necessary roadwork. The chip-seal treatment is inexpensive and effective, but some road sections don't have enough of a base to support the treatment. Those sections require a much more expensive treatment called cement-reinforced asphalt-based stabilization.

"We need to take care of the infrastructure of this city," Egger told the council. "The 3 percent property tax is not going to be enough to do that. It's going to be enough to do some [cement-reinforced asphalt-based stabilization] work, but eventually we're going to run out of reserves."

Under the plan, the general fund would be lower due to money going to the street and path fund, but the overall budget would go up by 3 percent.

"Am I the only one here who would consider lowering funding for nonprofits and putting that money toward a road fund?" Councilman Franz Suhadolnik asked the council.

"No, you're not the only one," Councilman Bob Youngman replied. "I think establishing a maintenance fund is a good idea. That way the next four people sitting here will know at least that we put it there [for a specific reason]."

Councilman Nils Ribi said the city should be "more serious about roads."

"The 3 percent tax is a Band-Aid. We need a tourniquet," he said.

Councilwoman Michelle Griffith agreed, though without much hope.

"Yes, but we might not be able to find one," she said.

The council then voted to amend the city's 2013 tentative budget to increase property tax collections by 3 percent to support a road and path fund. Cities are authorized to do that but most get voters' approval to collect more than that.

Ribi's vote was particularly enthusiastic.

"Yes!" he exclaimed directly into his microphone.

The council will receive a copy of the amended 2013 tentative budget during its Thursday, July 19, meeting, during which the public will be able to comment on the 2013 tentative budget, including the new street and path fund. The council will then meet for a work session at some point in the near future to discuss the details of how the money in the street and path fund will be put to use.

Brennan Rego: brego@mtexpress.com




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