City Of Burien Drives Through Political Potholes Over Road Repair Costs
Remember the television commercials for Fram filters from the 1980s?
A somber-faced mechanic, holding a dirtyÂ air or oil filter that should have been replaced 100,000 miles ago, would tellÂ viewers that the car owner’s neglectÂ – andÂ his use ofÂ cheap filters – resulted in a costly valve job or an even more expensive engine replacement.
“Pay me now,” the TV mechanic intoned, “or pay me later.”
Fast forward to Burien 2010.
Due to budget constraints, routine street overlay work â€“ applying 2 inches of asphalt to the existing surface â€“ has not been done for two years.
Yet asphalt overlays are essential maintenance to extend the life of roadways. Further neglect will result in irreversible deterioration, resulting in the far more costly process of rebuilding them.
It’s a matter of “payÂ now, or pay later.”
Thatâ€™s the bottom-line message City Manager Mike Martin and Public Works Director Larry Blanchard delivered to city council members at a special meeting March 29 (download PDF of proposal here).
On this point, there seemed to be no disagreement.
Councilman Gordon Shaw did question prior council decisions that led to this dilemma by placing funding for lower-priority programs and services ahead of street maintenance.
But all acknowledged that asphalt-overlay work on city streets needs to begin soon â€“ and then continue on a regular basis â€“ to avoid expensive rebuilding later.
Martin and Blanchard proposed an ambitious, ongoing maintenance program – $19.4 million over the next 10 years â€“ which Martin said â€œis very much a legacy project.â€
Blanchard noted that, with Burienâ€™s average Pavement Condition Index currently at 68 percent, â€œevery street needs work.â€ And, he cautioned, â€œrepairs to failed streets cost 5 to 10 times as much as streets that have not failed.â€
Just a 2-inch overlay will keep a good street in good condition, Blanchard added. The plan proposed would maintain Burien streets at an average Pavement Condition Index of 80 percent.
Neglect of routine street maintenance â€œis a trend that canâ€™t continue,â€ Martin told council members. â€œThis is preserving an asset â€¦ we need to preserve asphalt.â€
A good street system, he said, â€œis a core service that we as a city provide.â€ In addition to supporting general transportation, deteriorating streets impact crime, economic development and neighborhoods.
The dilemma facing the council is how to pay for asphalt overlays. There isnâ€™t enough revenue coming into city coffers to fund the needed overlay program after current budget commitments are paid for.
Although Finance Director Tabatha Miller presented a funding strategy, much of which council members seemed to like, lawmakers arenâ€™t sold on certain elements of this plan.
They will continue this discussion at their April 5 meeting.
Even with the unwelcome projected price tag, council members were given a silver lining. By bringing asphalt overlay work in-house, the city, which has contracted this out to King County in the past, will save $750,000 a year.
â€œThatâ€™s big news, really big news,â€ Martin said, adding that it reflects the efficiency that Burien city staff brings to a project.
The asphalt-overlay program, as proposed to the council, would cost Burien $8.6 million this year to upgrade those streets that are in the worst condition yet can still be repaired.
This maintenance would be done during the remainder of 2010 and in 2011, although no additional funds would be used next year.
Beginning in 2012, the overlays would continue at an annual cost of $600,000 annually.
These costs estimates do not include anticipated growth or inflationary factors, Blanchard cautioned.
Compared to the cost of completely building a deteriorated roadway, the $19.4 million price tag facing Burien is a bargain, he suggested.
The 10-year cost of completely rebuilding damages streets currently is around $231 million, Blanchard added.
Miller recommended paying for the maintenance project with Build America Bonds with annual bond payments of $650,000. She said the total investment including bond payments from 2010 forward would cost the city $1.25 million.
One revenue source suggested by Miller is a Transportation Benefit District that would be funded by a $20 car tab fee on all vehicles registered inside the city. A proposal for a similar district to provide bike paths was soundly defeated in the election last November.
Other possible revenue sources include operational savings from surface water management and transportation services by bringing these programs in-house, increasing the electric utility tax (on Puget Sound Energy customers) from 3 percent to 6 percent, expanding the utility tax on solid waste collection to include recycling and yard waste disposal, negotiating some fees with water and sewer districts, and increasing the cityâ€™s business and occupation tax rate.
â€œAs we go along, hopefully we can find additional funding sources,â€ Martin said.
Shaw and Councilwoman Kathy Keene both said they want any special funds for street maintenance be committed â€œto actually go to roads.â€
Councilwoman Rose Clark said Burien is in its current financial bind, necessitating special funding for street maintenance, because â€œover time with various [tax limitation] initiatives to take away money from cities, the counties and the state â€¦ weâ€™re down several million dollars a year as a result.â€
The decision rests with city residents, said Mayor Joan McGilton â€“ â€œnew taxes on the citizens or lose services. If they are not willing to have these taxes levied against them for services, they must be willing to accept a decreased level of services.â€
But, Shaw demurred, â€œit bothers me that roads are easy things to steal from in tough times to balance the budget. You donâ€™t have to lay anyone off [to delay road work].
â€œSome decisions of this council [have resulted in] money going elsewhere that could have gone to roads and the good of our citizens.â€ He added, â€œWe probably wish now we would have done this.â€