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WatchSonoma Watch

Sonoma County supervisors float property tax idea for roads

By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday approved a small addition to the list of county roads targeted for long-term maintenance while signaling support for study of a possible property tax increase to boost road upkeep.

Cars drive over deteriorated asphalt along Llano Road, south of Highway 12, on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012. (CHRISTOPHER CHUNG/ PD)

Board members cited county budget pressure and flat state road funding as two of the reasons for the makeshift moves and revenue search. The $4.5 million currently allocated toward long-term upkeep is woefully short of the $120 million maintenance backlog saddling the county’s 1,382-mile network.

Supervisors tentatively agreed the problem may require a tax increase, possibly in the form of a countywide road maintenance district.

“Politically, it’s not an easy thing to take on because it’s going to take a huge amount of money to solve,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt. “And it’s probably going to come from the citizens of the county.”

The three main taxing options supervisors discussed Tuesday involve a road maintenance district of some form that would require two-thirds approval by voters.

County administrative leaders said they also are studying other options to boost funding, including an increase in hotel bed taxes.

Any tax increase could face an uphill climb, several supervisors said, and would have to show taxpayers progress on other fronts, such as holding down rising retirement costs, one of the key factors of county budget problems.

“We are committed to solving one of our county’s toughest challenges,” Supervisor Mike McGuire said, referring to road upkeep. But “it’s going to take additional revenue enhancements to be able to deal with this challenge.”

The comments came before an audience including fiscal watchdogs, two supervisorial candidates and advocates of increased county funding for road maintenance.

One of those advocates, Michael Troy, co-founder of the new group Save Our Sonoma Roads, said he and his fellow members “did not start out to get a new tax” and didn’t have a stance yet on whether they would back one.

“It may be a solution in the long run,” said Troy, a Penngrove resident. “But our main mission is public education. The county has to make decisions about its priorities.”

Some speakers were sharply critical of any step toward a tax increase, saying the county needed to shift money from other services to roads.

“If you follow the money it shows where the priorities are and it’s not roads,” said Robert Williamson, a Mark West-area resident who frequently addresses the board on fiscal management. He pointed to increased spending on health and human services — much of which is state and federal money — and rising pension costs as factors.

“After this conscious reduction (in road funding) you come and say ‘Well, gee, we’re going to have to find some special funding mechanism in order to find some longer term funding?’” Williamson said. “Roads should not be discriminated against.”

Others said a study of new taxes for roads was warranted.

Any ultimate move will need community support, said Gina Cuclis, a Boyes Hot Springs communication consultant and candidate for the 1st District supervisor’s seat that represents Sonoma Valley and eastern Santa Rosa.

“You have to have a messenger to sell it,” Cuclis said.

Santa Rosa Councilwoman Susan Gorin was the other 1st District supervisorial candidate sitting in on the discussion.

In addition to authorizing further study of the tax issue, the board Tuesday increased spending on long-term road maintenance — the county calls it “pavement preservation” — by about $2.2 million.

Officials did so by tapping a portion of the franchise fees paid by solid waste haulers. The funds could be a continuing source of money to help with roads for the next 16 years, county transportation officials said.

The funding shift allowed the board to add 42 miles to a so-called “priority list” of highly traveled, regionally significant roads targeted for long-term maintenance.

An additional 21 miles could be added to the list in the future if the county finds a new source of funding, supervisors decided.

Combined, the 63 mile additional miles would bring the priority road list to nearly 219 miles, or roughly 16 percent of the county network.

The added miles — representing more than 40 roads — are the same batch the board endorsed in a preliminary vote in October. They include a 5.4-mile stretch of Bennett Valley Road from Grange Road to Warm Springs Road, 8.2 miles of Valley Ford Road from Highway 1 to Tomales Road and 6.1 miles of Graton Road from Bohemian Highway to Highway 116.

Most of the segments are in good shape, and the long-term goal is maintenance efforts to keep them that way, said Phil Demery, the county’s transportation and public works director.

The board also approved an additional $250,000 in solid waste franchise fees to support efforts by landowners and homeowners groups proposing to work on segments of county roads near their property.

Supervisors, however, spent most of the hearing grappling with how to maintain the rest of the road network — the 1,164 miles of county-maintained surfaces that are set to receive only emergency repairs and would ultimately be allowed to fail and become gravel surfaces.

Demery called that scenario the “elephant in the room,” and a “clear source of frustration” to residents. Already, the county’s roads have ranked at or near the bottom in terms of pavement condition when compared with other Bay Area counties, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

“You can’t say you’re going to maintain 16 percent of the county’s roads and say you’ve solved the problem,” Sebastopol area resident Mike Windsor told the board. “It really is discouraging me to live in a place where you’re going to be writing off my roads.”

Supervisors said they didn’t intend to let that happen. “Forty-two miles is a good start but it’s not enough,” Chairwoman Shirlee Zane said of the first group of priority road additions, which represent about 3 percent of the county network.

But long-term upkeep of the entire 1,382 miles would cost more than $100 million annually, money the county doesn’t have or come close to getting from state and federal sources. Those sources make up nearly 90 percent of the county’s overall 2011-2012 roads budget of $41.6 million, including bridge and redevelopment dollars, county transportation officials said.

Within that total figure, state funding from gas tax revenues has remained flat. It is allocated using a formula unchanged since the early 1990s. And support from the county’s general fund has dropped from $7.8 million in 2008-2009 to $5.3 million in the current fiscal year.

Meanwhile, the county has struggled to keep pace with emergency repairs, spending up to $1.5 million a year simply filling potholes.

“We have 84 to 85 percent of our road system that is deteriorating before our very eyes,” Demery said. “This is not something the general fund can remedy. And it’s not necessarily something that a sales tax or gas tax can remedy.”

Supervisors said it called for a “long-term solution.”

“This is not a new issue,” said Rabbitt. “We will be asking for your patience and we will be asking for your help.”

Supervisors are set to return to the issue, including a discussion of tax increases to support roads, in the spring.





43 Responses to “Sonoma County supervisors float property tax idea for roads”

  1. Money Grubber says:

    With public pensions UNDER-funded and unable to pay their obligations in full without robbing the tax accounts, does anyone actually think that State, County, City, and Special Districts will use tax increases for anything but paying themselves first…..

    The “roads” or the “children” are the current lies uttered to con voters into surrendering more of their money to a criminal enterprise that is government.

    You vote for tax increases, as you have so many times over recent years, and the money just evaporates into those public pensions.

  2. Social Dis-Ease says:

    The road to the top of ICLEI and the road to the top of Big Oil end with the same individuals.

    Your public officials have aligned us with them through our ICLEI membership.

    The park privatization thing and the defunding of our rural roads thing is the same thing; Agenda 21.

  3. Roads for all says:

    The county road network is an asset to the entire county and should be supported as a whole. Those who live in the city enjoy and benefit the rural roads on weekends. They also benefit from the economy that is supported by this road network. One of the benefits of living is Sonoma County is the great access to nature, beach, farms, vineyards, etc. If you start chopping up responsibility for who pays for which roads, then you should also limit access to those roads accordingly. What a mess that would be.

    Can’t someone invent a new material and process to pave our roads that is less expensive to make and apply, better for environment, more durable, etc? In this land of opportunity, whoever can come up with this solution will be the next Bill Gates. Maybe we should sponsor an international competition with an award for the best solution? We need to get out of the box.

  4. Reality Check says:

    LBR,

    I got your point about the county not building some rural roads properly. Was that the fault of rural residents? When government screws up, don’t we all get stuck with the bill?

    Bottom line, it doesn’t change how road maintenance should be funded. Some form of use-based fees is preferable to a flat tax, imo.

  5. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @RC – “Lightly traveled rural roads should need maintenance proportional to the taxes paid by rural drivers”
    .
    Except that these roads cost MUCH more to maintain, because they do not have the proper underlayment to support pavement.

  6. John Galt says:

    @Let’s Be Reasonable-

    Over the last 30 years, while only 5.5% of commuters use transit, over 1/3 of California’s transportation dollars have gone to transit projects. Those who live in rural areas have been paying for those along with those who live in the urban corridors that could actually use these projects.

    It’s not unreasonable to expect the “urban drivers” to kick in for the public good- even if it doesn’t benefit them directly. You also didn’t mention the tourist uses and agricultural engine which these roads allow to support the local economy- biking and wine tasting and the like.

    So it’s not just to let rural folks get to their homes.

  7. Reality Check says:

    @LBR,

    Are there county roads that have no public purpose, that serve only a few residents living along them? Probably. If so, the county should turn them over to residents.

    Otherwise, I fear you make the perfect the enemy of the good. Lightly traveled rural roads should need maintenance proportional to the taxes paid by rural drivers . . . . roughly. Short of imposing an odometer tax on each driver (not a pleasant thought), a gas tax is about as fair as it gets, and a lot fairer than a parcel tax.

  8. Canthisbe says:

    Follower February 10, 2012 at 5:30 am @Canthisbe

    How can you just ignore the vast waste & corruption in our Government and advocate growing and expanding that waste & corruption by giving them MORE?

    My prior comment may have been poorly stated. I am not advocating more taxes. I intended to state the opposite of Bear. Take the taxes we have and do a better job of spending them on the things that government was meant to do instead of the politicians’ dream lists.

  9. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @JLA – “Americans’ dependence on federal government assistance increased 23% in two years under Obama”
    .
    Yes, as a result of the great recession that happened on Bush’s watch.

  10. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @RC – “Do California counties have an option to impose a gas tax? It may be imperfect, but it’s a far better method of paying for roads than a regressive flat tax.”
    .
    I would normally agree with you here, but the roads that are not being maintained in the current County plan tend to serve the most rural residents. Is it fair that urban drivers subsidize these rural drivers? Sonoma County went ahead and paved a bunch of roads that would never have been paved in other rural counties. They also did it without first re-engineering the roads to support pavement, so they do not stand up well. Personally, I think the owners of the McRanches along these roads should be paying for their own roads upkeep, not urban drivers. The main arteries like River Rd, Mark West Springs, Hwy 12, Hwy 116, etc. are used by all, including tourists, so these it does make sense for urban drivers to help pay for, but not the rest.

  11. Follower says:

    @taxpayer
    I have BAD news for you… they’re already preparing for that.

    Plans are in place & the idea has already been floated to convert ALL 401Ks to Government Bonds.

    Of course it will just start out as “a portion” of your retirement funds at first but we all know where THAT road leads.

    There is NO WAY the Unions are going to allow their servants (our Government) to just sit ideally by as Pensions dry up & blow away.

    They will soon have the power of the Printing Press to fall back on JUST LIKE BIG PHARMA AND HEALTH INSURANCE COMPANIES!
    (Obamacare)

    http://moneymorning.com/2010/01/27/retirement-plans/

  12. Follower says:

    @Canthisbe
    How can you just ignore the vast waste & corruption in our Government and advocate growing and expanding that waste & corruption by giving them MORE?

    I am REALLY sick of hearing that tired old argument that we need to “pay more to attract better people”.
    That’s worked out REAL well for us, hasn’t it??!

    The ONLY way a sane person could advocate more taxes is if they are just completely ignorant of what is being done with the existing taxes.

    Ignorance in the pursuit of better Government is no virtue.
    Reigning in Government waste & corruption through attrition is no vice.

    Government will always be wasteful & corrupt to some extent. The extent of that waste & corruption is DIRECTLY related to the level of money & power given by the people.

    It’s really just that damn simple!

  13. Dead Fish says:

    I had some hope for McGuire and Rabbit but their complete sellouts. Under this BOS Sonoma County will die. Their only answer is to raise taxes and let the unions and illegal immigrants have thier way. For true leaders real solutions are that difficult. It’s the only way to save their jobs…the most money they have ever made. It’s clearly apparent that the BOS do not the wisdom,vision or intelligenxce to save the county from being the south and east bay or worse. This is only the beginning of the horror show for the northcoast. The feds, state, county and locals including school districts are singing from the democratic song book. Sadly the PD, probably because the writing is on the wall with new owners, are on a liberal binge. I always have a years supply of wine but I’m getting nervous. Amen.

  14. Jim says:

    @canthisbe…I was with you until the pension. Public workers should not receive pensions. They should be allowed to contribute to a 401k like private workers (they have the option now, in addition to a pension). A private company that does not pay for pensions from taxpayer money, instead through operations, has every right to decide on a pension. Creating annuity expenses on the taxpayer wallet should be illegal. Pensions are bankrupting this state and country

  15. Canthisbe says:

    Newer concept. Pay the taxes. Then hire the good teachers, good police, good fire, fix the roads, run the parks, then hire a few administrators, give them all a reasonable pension, then if there’s anything left over, give a tax refund. No whining.

  16. bear says:

    A new concept. Argue the services – police, fire, roads, parks, whatever.

    Then add up the bill and pay taxes accordingly.

    No whining.

  17. Retired and Tired says:

    No, No, and No! We already HAVE a tax for that, it’s called a gasoline tax! Quit sending all our tax money to So. Cal. and fix OUR roads. Then, stop spending all our tax money on YOUR RETIREMENTS! AGHHHHH! Don’t they get it? We’re done!

  18. J L Anderson says:

    Keep voting for these same clueless politicians who only want to raise taxes and spend stupidly, and we’ll all be eating Souvlaki and Greek salads one day and driving on dirt roads.

    From the S&A Digest:

    Americans’ dependence on federal government assistance increased 23% in two years under Obama (the biggest two-year increase since Jimmy Carter was in office)… 67 million Americans now rely on some federal aid, according to a new study by the Heritage Foundation.

    Heritage’s annual Index of Dependence on Government tracks money spent on housing, health care, welfare, education, and other federal programs that were “traditionally provided to needy people by local organizations and families.”

    The report shows spending on “dependence programs” accounts for more than 70% of the federal budget. In 1990, that number was only 48.5%. Meanwhile, fewer Americans pay income taxes… 49.5% didn’t pay any income taxes in 2009 (the most recent data). In the 1960s, that number was only 12%.

  19. GAJ says:

    @Taxpayer, could it be because the Board of Supervisors themselves are beneficiaries of bloated pay and bennies?

    Self serving bunch we have there; more interested in preserving the status quo, (from which they benefit handsomely), so as not to hurt their chances for getting elected again.

    Those ARE their priorities…not the ones on their website which clearly puts road maintenance as the stated number one priority.

    The first step, just like the State legislators did in 1999, would be to completely eliminate the pension benefits for the Supervisors…but I’m not holding my breath.

  20. taxpayer says:

    The elephant in the room is the bloated public employee pension system.At what point will the system be bankrupt?.None of the democrats seem to want to seriously talk about it.

  21. Canthisbe says:

    http://www.watchsonomacounty.com/2011/12/transportation/north-bay-transportation-projects-receive-new-scrutiny/
    “Planners for Sonoma County expects its share to be $967 million in funds from 2015 to 2040. They propose spending $267.8 million for a SMART extension from Santa Rosa to Cloverdale, $200 million for widening Highway 101 in the Narrows and $95 million in bikeways”.

    May be they could use some of this money to fix the roads.

  22. Robert says:

    No more TAXES until the Board of Supervisors addresses the need to consolidate 42 school districts into 8 districts. Much better to have teachers in the classroom then administrators. Many districts have only 1-4 schools.

    Secondly public pensions must be adjusted to fit within the county budget. Investment retun of 7.5% is not realistic. Major reform is required.

    Once the aforementioned are resolved, road maintenance tax can be considered.

  23. Don Pauli says:

    How many forclosures have occured in your community? In this economic time priorities have to change. Roads serve everyone. Many services the county provides serve very few citizens.
    My property taxes are too high. The only benefit I receive is?
    I don’t trust you or other elected officials. You choices haven’t served the majority of residents or those of us who do pay property taxes.

  24. Sitting By the Intersection says:

    First, the county needs to formally adopt a committment to repair and maintain all of the county roads.

    Next, the Board of Supervisors need to stop transfering funds to SMART and repair the existing roads until all of the roads are fixed.

    Will the dreamers do any of this? No, they are committed to letting the roads go to gravel and have the little train roll on.

  25. Dan Drummond says:

    Stephen,

    I appreciate your sentiment and indeed it would seem a simple thing to raise a tax and fix our roads. But then the parks advocates also want to raise taxes or fees to keep the parks open. And the schools folks want to pass new taxes to help keep the schools afloat. And the county wants to raise rental fees at the veterans buildings to offset a backlog of deferred maintenance. And so it goes. What all of you well-intentioned folks overlook is that taxes that were paid to fund these programs have been diverted to fund an ever-increasing and unsustainable public employee pension system. And while modest proposals have been floated to address the issue, no meaningful reform has occurred. Nor is it likely to so long as we keep passing new taxes to pay for things we’ve already paid for. And the really sad thing about all this is that we pass on to our children and grandchildren not only the burden of these new taxes, but also the bloated pension system we lacked the courage to address. It seems irresponsible in the extreme that we should shirk our responsibilities to our children by saddling them with the mess we failed to correct.

  26. Follower says:

    …and it will pass with flying colors because Californians are so impressed with what a great job they have done with the current taxes, just think what they could do if they had MORE!!

  27. 0 Representation says:

    Just where does our gas tax go? I thought it went towards fixing our roads? I’d vote against this new tax. When we see some better budgeting of funds for our county I might consider payiing more tax. Until then… Forget about it.

  28. The Hammer says:

    Take all of the funds from all of their pet projects and pour it into the roads! Then vote each and every one of them out of a job. Worthless pieces of ____! You can fill in what you feel good about.

  29. Investing wisely says:

    If you want to see where the county general fund is spent, you can see the whole budget on the county website. Look at what a large part of the pie is spent on criminal justice costs. Astounding. Investing our resources upstream to help the healthy development and education of all young children (even if they are not our own children), would prevent many youth from going down the wrong path. You can blame it on the parents if you want, but you’ll still end up paying the jail bill. Or we, the village of Sonoma County, can do better for all of our youth and have plenty of money left over for roads and parks.

  30. Billy C says:

    The real issue in my eyes is what is going to happen a few years from now.
    Fixing roads is a heck of a lot more expensive than maintaining them.
    The economic situation we are in now has not reversed its self. Plenty of more pain to come. I hope the B.O.S has a plan B.

  31. Phil Maher says:

    If just 4 years of the sales tax revenue generated by Measure Q (SMART tax) was used for the roads, where the greatest number of people would actually benefit from it, the “long-term” budget shortfall for deferred road maintenance would be solved responsibly in a very short time frame. The screwed up priorities of the Supervisors/ SMART board members/SCTA members are what got them into this mess to begin with. Let them figure it out on their own and vote “NO” to being fooled yet again by these incestuous miscreants that have no “vision” that even remotely resembles any sort of reality to the rest of us.

  32. Social Dis-Ease says:

    I will refer to the little health club analogy again;

    If you belonged to an expensive health club, and they started to cut back on services and raise the rates…
    what would you think?

    Especially if you had a lifetime membership that you paid a lot of money for.

    More Agenda 21.

  33. Steveguy says:

    There is a sales tax on gas. Maybe use a dedicated portion of it to fix the roads.

  34. Steveguy says:

    I’d have to agree with Reality that something needs to done, but the property tax scheme is unfair.

    Our transportation dollars have become a bottom-less trough for the Agencies to feed from. The tax dollars go from Agency to Agency to Agency to Agency. Then they fix roads. ALL of the Agencies always have very highly paid Administrators and staff. Besides that, they severe on different boards of the Agencies to make it a truly crony system.

    Besides who gives the campaign donations ! The whole system that they created is corrupt.

    Cut out the layers and layers of buerocrats, and fix the damn roads !

  35. Dogs Rule says:

    I would never vote for a new tax again. Windfalls from previous swindles will have to do. Government has to spend what’s in her wallet – just like me.

  36. Just Me says:

    BAD IDEA Supes! Why are you willing to penalize the property tax owners to pay for the roads you already have funds for? I believe I am ENTITLED to good roads for all the money I already give you! Shouldn’t EVERYONE WHO USES THESE ROADS (Bicyclists and pedestrians included) have to pay to maintain them too?

    How about letting the property tax owners designate where their property tax dollars get spent instead of you deciding? I think we’d have a very different approach to the use of the funds!

  37. J.R. Wirth says:

    This has just gotten absurd. Lets raise taxes for something that’s necessary so we can keep funding the unnecessary things. And the dummies will keep voting for them.

  38. Stephen Anthony says:

    Good Idea! We need our roads fixed and I’d rather pay a small tax than have to keep fixing my alignment and buying new tires.
    We are world class destination and tourists don’t need to see our roads looking like a third world country. Let’s do this!

  39. John T says:

    The supervisors just don’t get it. It’s not a time to raise taxes. It’s time to review priorities and move more funding to roads maintenance and repair.

  40. Jim says:

    Are we supposed to be shocked by the “$120 million maintenance backlog”? I laugh at it. As a cyclist, I know exactly how pathetic the road conditions are in Sonoma County. Maintenance has been deferred for years and now we have to pay for it? Why was it deferred?

    Let us see the details of where the “revenue” that is taken from the county economy is spent. I’ll be a large portion goes to pay for workers we don’t need in departments we don’t need and workers who used to work in departments we never needed. Yep, how much of the budget is wasted on pensions?

    When the county become more efficient with the money they already have, I’d consider a tax increase. I’ve had to become very fiscally conservative in my personal budget because of the economy yet NOT ONE government has done the same. Screw them. I don’t have extra money in my budget to give to the government. I’m already taxed to death. Where does the gas tax money go?

    Show me a few years of real efficiency and I’ll consider giving more money. I assume there are enough voters who have a similar tight budget like me.

  41. GAJ says:

    How County road maintenance became such a tiny piece of the budget is simply staggering.

    When will the Board of Supervisors take the lead by sacrificing some of their $240k/year pay/benefits package to benefit the greater good?

    Only after some serious moves made to reign in out of control pay and benefits for the top tiers of County Government will the taxpayers remotely consider new taxes…especially to pay for something that should have been a MAJOR priority for County Government like road maintenance.

    It’s time for the current Board to focus on their number one stated priority rather than window dressing.

    Here are the list of priorities from the Board of Supervisors’ own website; how do YOU think they’re doing?

    “Provide Public Services

    A major task of the Board of Supervisors is to manage the public money which comes to the county from property tax, sales tax, fees, and federal and state income grants.

    The county budget has funds for services such as:

    Local road construction and maintenance

    Law enforcement

    Land use planning and enforcement

    Open space preservation

    Local bus service

    Public health programs

    Human service programs

    Regional parks

    In addition, the Board of Supervisors manages the county landfill, the public water transmission system which delivers water to cities and several sewage treatment facilities.”

    http://supervisors.sonoma-county.org/content.aspx?sid=1001&id=1000

  42. Reality Check says:

    Goodness knows something needs to be done. But a flat parcel tax is simply unfair, if fairness in taxes matters to anyone. It taxes people the same whether they drive 3,000 or 30,000 miles per year.

    Do California counties have an option to impose a gas tax? It may be imperfect, but it’s a far better method of paying for roads than a regressive flat tax.

  43. Money Grubber says:

    Ahhhhhhh, yes.

    The scheming government looks to steal more money from the public rather than properly prioritize the spending of money it already gets.

    Got a spending problem, kiddies? Yes you do.

    How about dropping your scheme to buy yourselves a brand new and UN-necessary court house? That would enable you to pave more roads for years. The current court house in Santa Rosa is younger than most of the homes in Sonoma County.