By Jeff Keeling
Johnson City’s path to a fiscal 2016 budget may be paved with higher road resurfacing expenses, commissioners learned Thursday. And, at least according to the latest citizen survey, better roads are what Johnson Citians want as much as anything.
After budget presentations from the public works director and the school system, Johnson City commissioners were facing additional fiscal 2016 revenue requests exceeding $4.3 million – and that was without an extra $1 million for resurfacing that Public Works Director Phil Pindzola said is necessary to reach an adequate schedule for good roads and more affordable maintenance.
Backing out projected tax revenue growth of around $1.5 million, paying for all that – including the additional road resurfacing – would require a property tax increase in the neighborhood of 22 cents per $100 of assessed value. That amounts to an increase of roughly $110 a year for the owner of a house appraised for tax purposes at $200,000.
Years of underfunding the resurfacing schedule have left many city roads in poor condition, Pindzola told commissioners. To get into a cycle that actually saves money in the long run, he said, would require spending about $3 million a year – roughly $1 million more than the city’s been spending most years.
“If I can ever get out of the bad street system that we have today in terms of condition, then the maintenance function will become quite (a bit) easier, and then I can enhance on the techniques of patching, to give you a different kind of patch,” Pindzola said. As it is, he said, with resurfacing on about a 30-year cycle, city roads reach such a bad state of repair that patching becomes more frequent, more expensive, and less effective.
“I’ve got so many of them depending on weather conditions I’m having to throw asphalt in the hole and keep moving.”
Commissioners peppered Pindzola and street director Mike Arsenault with questions about different methods, how quickly the city could catch up to an adequate paving schedule, and whether there were some short-term fixes out there. The answer to the last question – and to one about whether any revenue sources for street work were available outside property tax – was ‘not really.’
“I just am hesitant to put a band-aid on the issue and leave the next guy after me with the same problem,” Pindzola said.
At least with respect to that budget area, Vice Mayor Clayton Stout sounded ready to consider reaching for the checkbook. “I think that’s priority number one,” Stout said. “I think it should be.”
All told, Pindzola’s budget request was about $2.3 million higher than this year’s. That included $2 million for resurfacing, so a $3 million resurfacing budget would bring public works’ budget up by $3.3 million. The figure includes $770,000 more for equipment, about $360,000 more for personnel and $1.2 million for operating.
The schools’ budget request, which commissioners received with positive comments generally, asks for $2.1 million more than this year.
Monday, city Budget Manager Lora Grogg said the city is projecting additional revenues – excluding an increase in the hotel-motel tax – of around $1.5 million over last year. The bulk of that comes from nearly $1 million in expected additional sales tax revenues, a 5.3 percent increase over this fiscal year, which ends June 30.
That means excluding any other departmental increases, just to fund the requested amounts and an additional $1 million for resurfacing would require about $3.8 million. Commissioners continued hearing budget requests from other departments this week, and must pass a budget on three readings by June 30.