by Sheila Gardner

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March 14, 2014
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Road task force offers tax use recommendations

Douglas County commissioners narrowly approved a recommendation this month to establish policy that countywide taxes be used for regional roads and local taxes be used for neighborhood roads.

The recommendation, which passed 3-2, was proposed by the Road Funding Task Force after nearly a year of study.

The board also agreed to direct staff to look for additional funding to be shifted to road maintenance for collector roads as part of the upcoming budget process.

Commissioners Barry Penzel and Lee Bonner voted against the recommendation at the March 6 meeting, saying they viewed creating road districts as an unfair burden on taxpayers.

They balked at the prospect of creating one or more districts in areas outside existing towns and general improvement districts where the county maintains local roads to levy local property taxes for maintenance.

Collector roads, such as Buckeye Road, Johnson Lane, and County Road, account for 40 percent of the pavement area the county maintains. They carry the heaviest volume of traffic and serve a regional transportation benefit.

Local roads, including South Santa Barbara in Saratoga Springs, Palomino Drive in Ruhenstroth, and Topaz Road in Topaz Lake, account for approximately 60 percent of the county-maintained pavement area. These roads have less traffic volume, and generally benefit the residents within a particular neighborhood.

“From day one, we tried to understand where those roads are, and who maintains them,” said County Manager Steve Mokrohisky, who created the task force of 18 community representatives.

He said the task force decided the cost to maintain local roads should be borne by residents who use them.

The justification for the option is that residents who live outside a town or GID and have county-maintained local roads have not paid for the proportional share of the cost to maintain their neighborhood roads as residents of towns and GIDs have.

“Either we’re going to address this now, or the next generation of taxpayers is going to address it times five,” said Commissioner Greg Lynn.

Mokrohisky agreed that the road district concept requires additional debate.

“I appreciate all the work and effort they (the task force) put in coming up with recommendations,” Mokrohisky said.

Chairman Doug Johnson reminded commissioners that all the task force did was the work asked of them by the board.

“There was direction from the board to get the community involved,” Johnson said. “We still have control over the future.

“We don’t want them to think they wasted their time,” Johnson said.

Commissioner Nancy McDermid agreed.

“They did the task we asked them to do. We don’t need to shoot the messenger,” she said.

Other potential funding options involved raising the utility operator fee; increasing the gas tax by five cents per gallon; increasing the infrastructure sales tax; and implementing a public transit and road maintenance tax.

The task force was created to deal with Douglas County’s 171 miles of deteriorating paved roads. In 2010, the county implemented a pavement management program to evaluate roads. In four years, the pavement condition has dropped from 62 or “fair,” to 58 near “poor.” The board shifted more than $1 million in existing property tax funds this year for maintenance of collector roads, with plans for a similar policy in the upcoming fiscal year 2014-15 budget.

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The Record Courier Updated Mar 14, 2014 04:25PM Published Mar 14, 2014 10:50AM Copyright 2014 The Record Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.