Sonoma County's Board of Supervisors approved allocating an additional $8 million in next year's budget for road maintenance at their meeting Monday, June 18. The one-time $8 million general fund allocation is in addition to $7.5 million of general fund revenue for roads already included in next fiscal year's budget.
Board members said the extra $8 million was the first step in a long-term solution to improve and maintain roads. "We know we have to do a better job and we are here to solve it. This is a legacy problem," Supervisor Mark McGuire said.
Some speakers said money allocated for retirees' pensions could instead be used to fix the county's roads. "We need serious pension reform or there won't be any money for anything, that's what people are watching," said Michael Windsor.
Jack Atkin, president of the Sonoma County Taxpayers' Association, said the county is spending $30 million a year in excess pension costs. He said a proposal to put a quarter-cent sales tax increase for local road maintenance on the ballot would be "very unfortunate" in light of the county's pension obligation debt.
Both Zane and McGuire said the county's pension obligations are not to blame for the county's deteriorating roads. Zane said the board is negotiating with employee unions on pension reform.
"Pensions are not the issue. There's been a dramatic decrease in gas tax and property tax revenue," McGuire said.
Of the additional $8 million, $6.5 million will be used to improve road segments in agricultural and tourism areas that enhance economic growth in the county. The remaining $1.5 million will match money in areas of the county where residents are willing the share the cost of maintaining their roads.
There are 1,382 miles of roads in unincorporated Sonoma County. The county spent an average of $19 million a year to maintain roads over the past nine fiscal years compared to $5.3 million slated for next year's budget, according to the report.
"There has not been enough money annually allocated for the pavement preservation program for decades and as a result 53 percent of the roads need reconstruction," Zane and Rabbitt said in their report. Consequently, the county has been concentrating on maintaining 197 miles of a "primary road network".
"We have to chip away at the problem," Rabbitt said.
Bay City News Service provided this report