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May 5, 2013

Streets in need of more than cosmetic repairs

DUNCAN — Take a drive through most any part of Duncan and you can’t miss them.

Asphalt streets with dips, dives, potholes and countless signs of temporary fixes that aren’t fixed anymore.

Concrete streets with cracks, crumbling curbs and corner sections that turn into small ponds after a good rain. Folks who live by those look for passing cars before fetching their mail or morning newspaper.

In some places, there are spaces in the streets where the grass and weeds could use a good mowing.

It’s not that bad everywhere, of course.

Some sections of streets, such as portions of Camelback Road and 10th Street for example, are nice and smooth thanks to recent renovations. Some stretches in residential areas are still in sound shape decades after they were built.

But many streets in town fall far short of bragging material, and a lot of them are simply bad and getting worse.

“We don’t need a debate on the need to fix streets,” said Duncan Public Works Director Scott Vaughn.

City leaders hope Duncan residents will approve a $9 million bond proposal on May 14 that would remedy part of the problem by repairing 255 out of 1,100 sections of streets over the next three years.

The project would be funded through higher property taxes on homeowners and businesses, with the bond paid off after 10 years.

Homeowners with houses valued at $150,000 would pay an average of $98 more per year, or $8.17 per month, over the next decade. The additional payments would be lower for houses valued below that and higher for houses worth more.

To extend the repair and renovation work, the city has set aside $500,000 in this year’s budget and plans to do the same in 2014 and 2015. That pot of money would then be combined with normal street appropriations in a fourth year to fund another year of major improvements.

To many supporters, including city officials, the proposal is a case of pay for long-overdue work now or pay more later, when streets are in even worse shape and cost more to fix.

“We are not voting on a project that is pie-in-the-sky,” said City Manager Jim Frieda. “We are trying to finance a reasonable amount that can be related to and identified with specific improvements that are going to affect the public.”

In terms of the scope of the proposed work and the price tag, the project is modest by design.

That’s primarily because — simply put — it has to sell. A majority of voters who cast ballots on May 14 – at least 50 percent of them plus one – must approve this or any other proposal to increase sales taxes or property taxes for such a job.

City officials say it would take more than $100 million to bring all city streets up to “serviceable condition.” That means adequately serving their purpose for many years and needing only routine maintenance.

Out of about 1,100 street segments – which are typically about a block long – only about 100 do not need any action now.

The project does not include work over water mains, which can be very costly and short-lived if those mains break afterwards. And there are only six sections that will be totally reconstructed.

 Two of those sections – E Street from Ash to Main and F Street from Ash to Main – are also the most expensive, each costing more than $230,000.

 Most of the work calls for patching and sealing concrete streets and resurfacing asphalt sections, and they are spread throughout the city.

All work to be done has been listed by location, type of improvements and projected cost, even though the city is required by law to disclose only 70 percent of what the bond money will be spent on.

In that respect, and many others, the bond proposal has been crafted with lessons from the past in mind.

In 2007, when city leaders pitched a $20 million bond for street improvements to be paid through property taxes, voters shot it down convincingly. They also balked at a proposal to fund the improvements through a half-cent increase in sales taxes.

 The City Council then voted to borrow $10 million anyway. Money for that project, which included more than $2 million alone for reconstructing part of 10th Street, is still being paid back.

Since 2010, voters also have turned away two bond issues for Duncan Public Schools – one for $118 million and another for $41 million – before a third one for about $19 million won passage last year.

There were many reasons some of those proposals failed, some that would have no bearing on the current proposal. But they failed nonetheless.

City leaders also are aware of the ballot-fatigue sentiments of some like Duncan resident Lawanna Franklin. She recently told The Banner that streets in Duncan need fixing, but it seemed like every time she turned around, she was voting on another proposed tax increase.

The price tag for this bond issue, the way it will be financed and paid back, the scope and nature of the work – all have a common denominator: Winning approval by the public.

City leaders say if the proposal fails, they will not borrow the money anyway and add to the city’s existing debt. It stands at about $54 million now.

“My feeling, and it is philosophical, is that people are willing to vote on improvements that will affect them, when they see what you are going to do on this particular street,” Frieda said. “I really want people to understand the number of streets involved, how they as individuals are affected.”

After that, he said, “The only thing we can do is perform as we have promised.”

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