Street repair funding snarls city
By GALE PIFER, Contributing Reporter
(Editor's note: Despite the claim last Monday that he personally had not heard any objections to the proposed special assessment resolution, Mayor Roy Lindsay apparently received an earful last week. On Friday, he announced that a motion to repeal the controversial proposal would be on top of Monday's (tonight's) City Commission agenda. Lindsay was quoted as saying he planned to propose some possible revisions to the ordinance. He added that an attorney general's opinion regarding whether the matter could be brought to a vote of the people was expected Monday. City Attorney David Jencks had advised commissioners that if the special assessment was administrative in nature, it could not be referred to a vote. The commission meets in City Hall at 5:30 p.m. The meetings are open to the public.)|
Mayor Roy Lindsay summed it up this way: "We've got enough pots for flowers without having them in the streets."
Lindsay was making reference to a controversial resolution before the Madison City Commission, which would assess property at the rate of $1 per frontage foot and designate those funds for street repairs.
"The money we now have to work with is simply not sufficient to cover the street improvements," Lindsay said.
The 2013 city street budget reflects approximately $25,000 for street repairs, but that money goes mainly to patching holes as they appear. It does not provide enough money to actually address surfacing that is near or past its useful life, according to Public Works Director Fred Snoderly.
City Commissioner Nick Abraham, who serves as street commissioner, said the board has looked at ways to make street improvements for years, "but as we tried to find the money to make improvements, our city streets just got worse. We've only been able to find enough money to maintain what we have, but not enough to actually make much of a dent in actually rebuilding streets."
An exception was the reconstruction of Center St. from Washington Ave. to Division Ave., which was completed this year. Cost of that project was $1.04 million with $380,000 coming from the South Dakota Department of Transportation (SDDOT) through the city's Surface Transportation Project funds and the remaining $167,000 coming from local funds for water and sanitary sewer improvements.
"We are losing ground when it comes to doing overlay work on our city streets," Abraham said.
One possible method of obtaining money for streets was for the city to pass a resolution such as came before the commission recently. The drawback has always been that, according to state law, the city could only charge 40 cents per foot. The 2012 South Dakota Legislature, however, passed a measure which would remove the financial cap, making it possible for cities to set their own amounts. In Madison's case, a fee of $1 per frontage foot is being proposed.
Madison isn't the only city in the area thinking about or already instituting the special maintenance fee assessment. Brandon, Spearfish, Salem and Sioux Falls have already taken the steps.
Depending on their lot size, property owners would pay $1 for every front of footage on their property. People living on corner lots would pay for both sides of their property. Despite rumors that people would also be assessed for alleys, alleys are not part of the equation.
Resolution 2013-15 would direct the Lake County Auditor to add the $1 per foot fee to the tax bills due next year. It is estimated the assessment would raise $380,000 per year.
The assessment is for one year only and would require separate city commission action to extend it beyond 2014.
City Engineer Chad Comes said that for a typical street, it generally costs between $28,000 and $97,000 per block (assuming an approximate 528-foot-long block) to resurface a city block, depending on the condition of the material below the street grade.
"If we have to remove the material under the asphalt mat because it is unsuitable and replace it with granular material and a new asphalt mat, it costs more than if we are able to simply add another layer to the asphalt mat," he said.
According to SDDOT inventories, Comes said the city has in excess of 50 miles of city streets. There are an equivalent of 35 to 528 feet blocks of gravel streets in the city.
Former City Commissioner George Lee expressed his opposition to the resolution. He said it appears money formerly designated for street repairs was diverted to other projects when the street work wasn't done. He specifically mentioned Center St., which had money allocated to it to resurface the street west to Highland Ave.
"But for some reason, later commissions decided not to do the work and the money was spent elsewhere," said Lee.
Lee and others recently circulated and filed petitions calling for the matter to be referred to a vote of the people. On June 17, commissioners accepted the petitions, but delayed doing anything further until this week's meeting.
Commissioners want clarification about laws dealing with special assessments. The petitions recently circulated could fall under two different categories: legislative and administrative. If ruled legislative, the matter could be put to a vote of the people. If ruled administrative, the matter is not referable and therefore there would be no requirement for a vote, despite the filing of petitions. If the matter is put to a vote, it will cost in excess of $2,000.
While most agree that assessing fees to make street repairs isn't the ideal situation, commissioners feel obligated to make street repairs even if the current budget doesn't allow for much work.
The 2013 appropriation calls for $714,710 to be spent for highways and streets. This figure includes salaries and benefits totaling $485,900, repair and maintenance of vehicles and structures, fuel and tires, and money to repair pot holes.
The amount also includes $54,400, which will be used for sidewalk safety repairs in rights-of-way on city property and for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ramps.
Six city employees are dedicated to the Street Department. As part of their responsibilities, Street Department workers repair and maintain the city streets, and they partner with Lake County to do the chipseal work. They also do storm sewers, catch basins, and repair and install street signs. They fill in on the garbage truck when someone is ill or on vacation; bale and load products at the Recycling Center; and work at the Restricted-Use Site west of town.
At present, the city plans to spend $109,000 to chipseal streets. But Abraham explained that chipsealing streets is simply maintenance. "It doesn't do anything toward putting new asphalt on our streets," he said.
City Finance Officer Jennifer Eimers said tax-supported revenues for the city totaled $5.7 million last year. A total of $1.8 million came from property taxes and another $2.8 million from sales and use taxes. The city, meanwhile, had expenditures of only $5.5 million, she said.
The city has $5.3 million in designated reserve funds, of which $744,000 is earmarked for the Street Department. Of that amount, $500,000 is for equipment upgrades.
More than 35 years ago, the city had in place plans to resurface all city streets during a seven-year program. The plan failed to be completed, however, as successive city commissions deferred street projects.
"Now we are in danger of turning what streets we've got back into gravel again if we don't come up with a solid plan to resurface our streets," Snoderly said. "The money we derive from property taxes just doesn't go as far as it used to."
Snoderly pointed to increases in materials, especially in fuel-based products including asphalt materials, as being particularly troublesome.
"It is our intent to set aside money raised by this proposed assessment strictly for street construction. It will never be rolled into the general fund," Snoderly said.
Elected city officials and city supervisors say they aren't out to deceive anyone.
"It simply costs lots of money to operate city government," said Lindsay, "and money spent on city streets is very important. Everyone likes to drive on good city streets. As commissioners and employees, it is our job to make sure we can make that happen as inexpensively and efficiently as possible."
©Madison Daily Leader 2013