Two Sonoma County supervisors have proposed temporarily doubling the county's contribution to rural road upkeep and some type of tax increase to boost long-term road funding.
Without an additional, dedicated source of money for county roads, a maintenance backlog that public works officials have described as "staggering" will continue to grow, Supervisors Shirlee Zane and David Rabbitt said.
Their message is contained in a 31-page report being delivered Tuesday to the Board of Supervisors.
Already the problem is so bad that 53 percent of county roads need reconstruction at an estimated cost of $926 million over the next 10 years, the report stated. That is nearly three quarters of the county's annual overall budget.
"It needs to be addressed," Rabbitt said of the maintenance backlog. "We can't just put our heads in the sand."
The problem has developed over decades, as money from state gas taxes — the main source for road upkeep — has remained flat. Support from the county's general fund, meanwhile, has dropped from a nearly-constant $7.8 million a year to $5.3 million in the current fiscal year.
Rabbitt and Zane would improve that picture in the short term by tapping $8 million from a special reserve used to cover delinquent property taxes, shifting it to road upkeep in 2012-2013 and thus doubling the maintenance budget to $15.5 million.
The added one-time funds would pay for rehabilitation of 7.5 miles of roads that the report deemed important to tourism and agriculture. The segments include West Dry Creek Road outside Healdsburg, Westshore Road in Bodega Bay and Adobe Canyon Road off Highway 12. Currently the roads are in "fair" to "at-risk" condition. They would be upgraded to "very good" to "excellent," said Phil Demery, director of the county Department of Transportation and Public Works.
About $1.5 million of the $8 million would be dedicated as seed money to encourage and match citizen efforts to improve county roadways. The idea was a nod to residents who want to help fix sections of road near their homes, Rabbitt and Zane said.
The supervisors' long-term measures, including tax increases, would generate enough additional money — about $3 million to $8 million — to extend basic maintenance to all 1,382 miles of county maintained roads, but not fully address annual reconstruction needs.
That long-range goal would shelve a controversial plan put forward in 2010 that would focus repair funds on only the highest-traveled, most regionally important roads while giving the rest, about 84 percent of the network, only emergency repairs and ultimately allowing them to crumble into gravel.
That strategy proved to be political kryptonite to supervisors. It spawned an advocacy group that has lobbied for increased county road funding and fueled dozens if not hundreds of calls and emails to supervisors' offices from those concerned about abandonment of roads.
"I don't like that word, abandonment," Zane said. "I don't want to abandon roads, and I don't think anyone on this Board of Supervisors wants to abandon roads."
One leading advocate for increased road upkeep called the report a "bold first step" to address the problem.
Still, the supervisors' call for some type of tax increase — it could involve sales, property or hotel bed taxes — could provoke opposition from fiscal watchdogs and taxpayers as well as competition with other state and local funding proposals angling for a place on the ballot.