The Spokane Valley City Council took some inroads into spending more on street preservation last week.
While the council took this week off, on March 27 the majority of its membership favored using every dollar greater than the $26 million year-ending budget balance for roadwork intended to extend the life of pavement. If that money were used this year, the ending fund balance for 2011 was $28,050,000, meaning that $820,000 plus another $750,000 already saved could be used for capital improvements to roads.
The council also was given the option of using 40 percent of the balance over $26 million, which would free dollars up for other projects – such as the development of a new city hall -- but several council members said that construction costs are down and that the time to do the work is now.
“This is an old saw,” said Chuck Hafner, a longtime advocate of street preservation. “I don’t care about a city hall – we won’t get to city hall if our roads are bad.”
City staffers are more supportive of the 40-percent option, with Finance Director Mark Calhoun stressing that another source of sustainable income is necessary if the city is ever going to meet the estimated $11 million annual shortfall for street preservation.
“Staff believes it’s not possible (to meet that goal) without a sustainable source of income,” Calhoun said.
Council Member Arne Woodard said he supports the idea of using more than 40 percent for road preservation but cautioned that there needs to be money available for the Sullivan Road Bridge replacement project if no additional grant dollars are found soon.
“That is the top priority in my book,” Woodard said.
City Manager Mike Jackson said that, in addition to that project and a potential city hall, the city may need funds for new solid waste facility, an animal shelter and the possible acquisition of land at Herald Road and Sprague Avenue for the expansion of Balfour Park. He advised not moving to the 100-percent level above $26 million until 2013.
“I would think we should let this play out for this year,” Jackson said.
Mayor Tom Towey agreed, especially with the uncertainty over the Sullivan Bridge project.
“I don’t think it’s wise to dedicate our city funds anywhere with Sullivan Bridge staring us in the face,” Towey said. “We really have to find out how much money we’ll need.”
Council Member Dean Grafos said he disagreed as there was already money in the bank.
“Time is money,” he said. “That $26 million is not a magic number.”
Council Member Ben Wick said that dedicating the excess fund balance to only one priority is like having only one item on the menu.
“We can’t just eat shrimp tacos every day,” he said, adding that the city should start investigating another revenue source for street preservation.
Grassel said she doubts the public would be in favor of another tax, especially since the city already has a 6-percent telephone tax that is dedicated to the city’s road fund.
“I do get concerns when I hear members of the council say another source of revenue may be necessary,” Grassel said. “I wouldn’t consider another revenue source until every stone is turned (in the general fund).”