Close to Home: Roads should be high budget priority for Sonoma County
Measure A, which would have generated $20 million per year to improve roads and streets in Sonoma County, was soundly defeated in June. During the campaign, few if any of the 62 percent of voters who rejected the tax increase disputed the dire condition of the county's roads or that delay would escalate the cost of fixing them.
In recent years, the supervisors made a down payment toward solving our chronic county road problem by returning general fund spending, adjusted for inflation, to the levels of the late 1980s. Money from the county's general fund, combined with state and federal gas tax money, will improve almost 200 miles of the county's road system during the four year period between 2013 and 2016.
While this work has slightly improved Sonoma County's pavement condition index score to 47, about two-thirds of Sonoma County's 1,380-mile road system remains in either poor or failed condition.
Local government is ultimately responsible for the maintenance of the basic infrastructure that is vital for day-to-day life for its citizens. This includes a viable transportation system, clean water, public safety and a reliable supply of electricity. When local government fails to deliver essential services used daily by each resident, people lose faith in it and become distrustful.
The voters who rejected a tax increase for roads exemplify the cynicism that flows from failed government. Many expressed concern that public funds are not being spent wisely. They were either unconvinced that the revenue would be spent on roads or believed that the county has sufficient funds to maintain our road system adequately but chooses instead to spend them on other programs. Until basic infrastructure issues are resolved, many voters will have little interest in innovative approaches to solving social problems.
At the budget hearings in June, each supervisor stated that fixing county roads remains a priority and that he or she will focus on finding additional revenue in the aftermath of Measure A's defeat. The time is coming to deliver on those promises when the supervisors consider additional road funding during October.
Sonoma County's road problems were caused by decades of neglect.
No supervisor in the 1990s or 2000s publicly said, 'I don't care if our road system deteriorates to dirt and gravel.' Instead they neglected roads by spending general funds on other initiatives while the road system slowly degraded to its current condition.
Supervisors are being pressured to increase funding to address such issues as housing for the homeless and boosting employee pay. These have expensive price tags. For example, a 1 percent payroll increase would cost $4.6 million. Over five years, those funds could instead repair over 100 miles of county roads.
The long-term task of rehabilitating the county road system is an ongoing effort that has barely begun. Our leaders need to fill the Measure A pot hole by adequately funding the restoration of our county roads without depending on a bailout from Sacramento or Washington.
Craig S. Harrison and Michael Troy co-founded Save Our Sonoma Roads in 2011.