Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday boosted spending on rural roads by $13.5 million, an allocation meant to repair an additional 52 miles of the county-maintained road network over the next two years and shore up public trust in government after the defeat five months ago of a tax increase to generate ongoing revenue for road repair.
The new spending is from a mix of sources, including a reserve account made up of delinquent property tax fines, as well as road impact fees paid by county garbage haulers and gravel operations. Combined with the county’s current general fund contribution of about $23 million for roads over the next two years, transportation officials said the county will be able to pave a total of 143 road miles by the end of summer in 2017.
“That’s in addition to everything we’ve already done,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt, referring to the 131 miles the county has repaved since 2013 with about $31.6 million in general fund dollars and about $9 million in federal funds. “I’m very proud of this board for spending more money on roads than any board in the previous 30 years, yet we still get beat up . . . we still need to do more.”
Road repair advocates and construction groups cheered the new spending, but also criticized the county for not investing enough in public infrastructure in recent years.
“You have a responsibility to take care of our roads,” said John Bly, executive vice president of the Northern California Engineering Contractors Association, a trade group that includes road contractors. “We urge you not to get distracted . . .by grand new ideas. The way to restore trust is to invest in our county roads.”
Since the defeat of Measure A in June, county transportation officials have been scrambling to identify new funding sources for major overhauls needed on the 1,384-mile road network, with a maintenance backlog pegged at $954 million over the next 20 years. Supervisors acknowledged that spending one-time monies available in this year’s budget would not be possible every year, but said they should be aggressive in order to avoid higher repair costs.
“If we continue to let our pavement degrade, it’s going to be even more expensive in the future to repave them,” Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Susan Gorin said.
Susan Klassen, the county’s transportation and public works director, said the county wants to pave 850 miles of roads — more than half of the county’s network — over the next 10 years. The county estimates it is roughly a third of the way there with Tuesday’s additional investment.
While the board agreed that roads should be a top priority, some supervisors questioned whether it was appropriate to approve the new spending over other high-profile county initiatives.
“I’m still not convinced that fiscally, it’s the most responsible thing we can do. . .. I’d rather get kids in preschool,” Supervisor Efren Carrillo said. “And let’s be honest, just a few months ago, we were asking voters to increase taxes, and all of the sudden we’ve got money? And we’ve had the money?”
Supervisor James Gore said the difference is that the tax increase would have generated ongoing revenue — about $8.7 million per year for five years.
“We need to be always looking for more funding,” Gore said. “Degraded infrastructure leads to degraded public trust in government.”