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County Contemplates New Tax to Fund Roads

Another option includes establishing road maintenance districts to raise additional revenue.

Finding money to repair Sonoma County's 1,382 miles of roadway, much of it deteriorating, was one topic the Board of Supervisors weighed in during their Tuesday meeting.

The board added 42 more miles of roadway to its list of streets that merit long-term maintenance. The addition means there are now 198 miles of road in the county's Priority Road Network. An additional 21 miles of roadway will be added to the prioritylist during a second phase of the road maintenance plan.

That total 219 miles of roadway -- which will cost $8.7 million annually to maintain -- represents 16 percent of the overall roadway in unincorporated areas of the county.

The county's other roads will only be maintained and corrected for safety purposes on an as-needed basis. Money for roadway improvements has been dwindling, in part because of decreased state funding and increasing pension costs.

What are the worst county roads? Sound off in the comments below

County Transportation and Public Works Director Phil Demery said Sonoma County's roads are among the worst in the Bay Area.

"These roads will continue to deteriorate and will become increasingly more difficult to keep safe," Demery said in his report to the board.

"Without funding for rebuilding these roads, they will eventually deteriorate to a point in which it would be safer and less costly to pulverize and maintain them in an unpaved condition," he said.

County transportation officials are concentrating on maintaining the most highly used and regionally significant roads. Demery estimated that making the needed repairs to all county roads right now would cost $120 million, but the county only spent $5.3 million on roads in the 2011-12 budget year.

The county administrator's office said the portion of general fund revenue devoted to roads has decreased for the past 10 years.

The Transportation and Public Works Department recommended establishing road maintenance districts to raise additional revenue, which would involve taxing residents to pay for repairs in their areas.

Other options include increasing the transient occupancy tax by 1 percent, reducing or eliminating roadside vegetation management, and suspending maintenance of 105 miles of low-volume roads that have alternate access.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved researching the formation of road maintenance districts. One speaker during the public comment period of the meeting said that 85 percent of the 68 respondents to a recent poll objected to being taxed to fix the roads in their areas. The prevailing sentiment is that roadmaintenance is a "basic county responsibility," she said.

Supervisor Mike McGuire said the board should be mindful that rural roads in his northern district and in western Sonoma County are major commute routes and are instrumental in getting the county's agricultural crops to market.

"They won't ever meet the formula for this plan," he said, referring to prioritizing more heavily traveled routes for maintenance.

Other board members said priority has to be given to the most-used roads until more funding becomes available.

"We have to focus on the roads we can maintain today," Supervisor Efren Carrillo said. He said voters should decide if they want to tax themselves to maintain roads in their districts. "It's a quality-of-life decision," Carrillo said.

Supervisor Valerie Brown also said prioritizing higher-use roads has to be the benchmark.

"People getting to work and home is the highest and best use of the roads," Brown said.

-Bay City News

Stinky February 10, 2012 at 03:33 PM
We already pay tax for road maintenance— every time we gas up! We need to work on getting access to these funds before they're spent elsewhere. Our elected officials have been lax about protecting our tax dollars. Do we really think we can trust them with more road money?
Dan Lyke February 10, 2012 at 06:54 PM
I think it's pretty plain to anyone who's looked at the economics of roads and transportation that gas taxes only pay a small portion of road maintenance costs (let alone the other externalities of automobile travel). I totally support raising the gas taxes to something reasonable, we should at least double the state and federal portions, but we should probably really be talking about several dollars per gallon. And, I lived for a while on a "not a county maintained road" out in western Marin. We got bids from various entities to re-pave it, and the county came in with the best deal. They're not wasting our tax dollars, we're just not giving them enough dollars to support the extensive infrastructure we have.
Richard February 11, 2012 at 04:57 PM
This is actually an important issue. I agree with "Stinky" that we need to be certain that the gas tax dollars are being returned to Sonoma. But it sounds as if the problem is beyond that. I suspect that a Transient Occupancy Tax of 1 per cent or perhaps 1/2 percent will ultimately have to be enacted. In fairness, most people book the hotel and don't pay much attention to the tax. Where it may hurt is that campgrounds are also subject to the tax and that is not necessarily a group with the wealth to ignore a few extra dollars being charged.
Irene Morgan February 12, 2012 at 01:51 AM
I am guessing that an increase in the Transient Occupany Tax will be needed. The other solutions do not seem to be able to raise enough money.
Dan Lyke February 12, 2012 at 02:08 AM
I need to track down the California State Board of Equalization's Pamphlet #59 "California Local Motor Vehicle Fuel Taxation Law", but apparently counties can impose local fuel taxes. A quarter a gallon would probably go a good way towards keeping our roads better maintained.

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