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Mayor seeks $3.5 million to fix city streets

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Mayor Kristen Brown is proposing that the city spend $3.5 million to repave parts of about 60 city streets in dire need of repair.

“Nothing is as critical as getting this done,” Brown told the City Council last week, laying out a plan to pay for the road improvements from the general fund.

The project involves repaving about 13 miles of city streets, and allocating $1 million for concrete street repair.

Brown found the money by crunching numbers in the general fund, which show city tax revenue is about $2.6 million more than projected for this year.

When the city takes a conservative approach to setting budgets, Brown said, it can result in more revenue being available than was originally budgeted.

Brown is also proposing to use money that has been turned back into the general fund by city departments — money they didn’t spend in 2013 that had been carried over to 2014.

Such money may be re-purposed if the Columbus City Council approves an additional appropriation for uses that were not originally budgeted.

Brown’s request seeks $3.2 million designated for street paving, with the remaining $300,000 as a contingency fund for additional repair work.

Without the additional appropriation, the city has $416,000 annually from the state in local road and street funds for road work. With some of that money held out for minor street repairs, the maximum amount of roadwork the city could do is a couple miles of streets, Brown said.

What is proposed this year from the budgeted $416,000 is work on two sections of Marr Road, a section on Beam and another on Waycross, a total of 1.4 miles.

Road-repair needs

The city has 261 miles of lane miles it must maintain, said Randy Sims, the city’s senior engineering technician.

Work on about 103 miles worth, deferred in the past, now needs to be done at a cost of about $17.5 million, Brown said.

Even if the city were able to catch up and repair all of those roads — which Brown’s plan won’t be able to address — to stay current it would need to repave 18 more miles a year.

Using just the state money, however, the city has been resurfacing about 3.6 miles a year.

So Brown has turned to a proposal to use local taxpayer funds to resurface streets that the city’s engineering department has identified as having the highest need.

Many of the sections of streets selected for work this year have not been repaved since the late ‘80s and early ‘90, Sims and City Engineer Beth Fizel said.

Stretches of streets have been ranked according to overall condition to determine which need to be repaved first, Sims said.

The list represents the maximum the city could accomplish in a summer season of road work, the mayor said.

But those roads aren’t the only concern.

The city spent about $4 million in 2013 on resurfacing 24 miles of street, money that came from a bond issue for a failed sports complex. Those streets now need crack sealing because this past winter was so harsh, Sims said.

That will cost about $200,000 or more, depending on the damage, according to engineering department estimates.

Funding for that is set to come from the local road and street funds from the state, combined with some general fund money, according to the mayor’s proposal.

Clock is ticking

“We’ve got to make decisions quickly,” the mayor said.

Brown wants to get bid specifications ready for paving contracts to be awarded in July, and complete the repaving by October.

“There is nothing of this magnitude or more important than our roads,” the mayor told councilmen. “Nothing is as critical as getting this done.”

But her pitch Tuesday to the Columbus City Council didn’t get far. Noncommittal councilmen sent the idea to a committee.

The council’s Capital Expenditures Committee, formed to review major city projects, had not met since October.

Council President Dascal Bunch and councilmen Frank Jerome and Tim Shuffett serve on the committee. But with the roads proposal to consider, the committee may meet this week, Bunch said.

When councilmen questioned the need for repaving during Tuesday’s council meeting, Sims explained that the road issues have been caused by years of placing asphalt over concrete streets.

“It’s the nature of the animal,” Sims said. “It’s just what asphalt on top of concrete does.”

Maintaining streets that have been repaved is extremely important to lower future costs, Sims said.

“The saying is that for every dollar spent in maintenance, you save $10 in reconstruction,” he said. “The city needs to do more preventative maintenance.”

Brown also is proposing to repave the streets in a way that surfaces will last, not just adding asphalt on top of asphalt.

A contractor will mill down the asphalt, deep patch and then rebuild the road base, adding drainage when needed and then resurfacing the top, she said. That process will result in longer-lasting roads, she said, instead of just rolling more asphalt on an already damaged road.

Finding savings, fixing roads

Matt Caldwell, the city’s director of operations and finance, attended Tuesday’s meeting to show the cash balances, projected and actual revenue and the general fund expenditures from 2012 through projections for 2014.

Some of the general fund cost savings have resulted from changing the way the city purchases items or contracts for services, he said afterward. For example, a recent effort to have the fire department consolidate its purchasing with the rest of the city saved $7,000.

The city is also using nationwide purchasing pools to save as much as 60 percent on products, channeling the purchasing power of cities around the nation to buy in large quantities and get a better price, city attorney Jeff Logston said.

Funds saved through this type of strategy are the ones that Brown wants to use to repair roads.

“We know we have some needs,” Councilman Jim Lienhoop said during Tuesday’s meeting.

He questioned whether road repair should be the only use for the available general fund money, however.

If the committee recommends using the $3.5 million on city streets, the council would have to approve it on first and second reading before the project goes forward.

If the council decides against allocating that money from the general fund, the only other option would be for the city to adopt a wheel tax to generate more road resurfacing funding, Brown said.

The mayor said she does not favor the wheel tax because she feels residents don’t want it. The council would also have to approve the wheel tax, if it were ever proposed.

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