Supervisors look at road tax options

If Sonoma County residents want better roads, they may find a one-quarter-cent tax measure on the November ballot to give them what they want.

At today’s Board of Supervisors meeting in Santa Rosa, the board will hold a public hearing to consider one of two tax ordinances to pay for improved roads.

The first option is a general, countywide, transitions and use tax, while the second option is a tax measure dedicated to fund road maintenance in the county. The first option would only take a majority vote of the electorate to pass while the specialized tax would require a two-thirds majority to pass.

County staff is recommending the supervisors opt for the general transactions and use tax.

According to the summary prepared for the supervisors, for several years, the county has prioritized transportation infrastructure, transit, enhancing safety for vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists, fixing potholes, repairing local roads and streets, and improving the quality of life for county residents to achieve its strategic goal of economic and environmental stewardship. This prioritization stemmed from both recognition of the importance of a well-maintained network and the decline of the county’s roads.

In August 2013, the board chair created the Long-Term Roads Ad Hoc Committee (Supervisors Mike McGuire and David Rabbitt) with a charter to improve the quality and safety of the County road system by developing a Long-Term Roads Plan, including funding strategies for pavement condition improvements. On June 17, the board adopted the Long-Term Roads Plan recommended by the Ad Hoc group, which sets a 10 year goal of improving more than 50 percent of the roads maintained by Sonoma County, and continuing to address the remaining roads in the following years.

To reach this goal, the summary continues, the county will need to repair approximately 700 miles of road in the coming 10 years, which is in addition to the approximately 150 miles of road currently completed or scheduled for repair work. Funding this plan requires increasing the county’s current investment in its road network to $40 million annually, primarily from increasing pavement preservation funding to an average of $20 million a year.

The proposed sales tax would raise $8.7 million a year for the general fund.

To reach the $40 million a year road investment, in addition to the $8.7 million the tax would raise, the county would use $5.4 million in general fund revenues, $12 million in state gas tax and $2 million from other sources for road maintenance; $8 million in general fund money, $2.2 million in franchise fees and $1.8 million in federal funding for pavement preservation.

The group, SOSroads, while supporting a tax measure did express some concerns.

According to a statement on the group’s website, SOSroads thinks the proposed plan is a major step forward, but that three issues should be addressed.

First, some people want to divert funds from rehabilitating roads to transit projects. Given the dire condition of the county road system, the group thinks this would be a mistake and sends a confusing message to voters.

Second, the group thinks the general fund commitment should be indexed to inflation. The failure to index road repair and maintenance funds to inflation is a major cause of our current problems, SOS believes.

Third, the group has advocated for a 10-year plan, given that too much can change over 20 years. It advocates ways of front-loading some of this work before the roads deteriorate further and are more expensive to rehabilitate.

The public hearing is set for 10 a.m. today at the Supervisors Chamber, 575 Administration Drive, Santa Rosa.