“Why haven’t we spent more money on the street program?”
That’s one question Ashland Public Works Director Paula Brown says she hears regularly.
“We’ve actually done really well,” Brown said. “We’ve programed the right monies. We’ve programed the right design time frames, and we have spent money about on par with what we’ve collected for the street fund.”
The street projects this year have been mostly focused on collector and arterial streets such as Hersey Street and North Mountain Avenue. The projects are still in the design phase with tentative plans to get them done in 2019, according to the staff report.
Brown said all the approved projects are on schedule.
“I think there’s been some naysayers that are saying to all of you that we’re not spending money fast enough,” Brown said. “We are spending money appropriately on the right projects for the right reasons.”
The City Council reviewed the street projects funded by the food and beverage tax at a Dec. 3 study session.
Brown said the cost of all the projects is estimated around $700,000, and the revenue from the food and beverage tax is estimated to bring in slightly more than that.
The Hersey Street repair project is broken into two sections: Hersey to Interstate 5 and East Main Street to the Railroad tracks. This project is nearing design completion and is estimated slightly under $4 million. Funds for the project are scheduled for obligation next spring, Brown said.
“I think we’re on a target that I believe is appropriate,” Brown said. “It’s methodical from an engineering stand point to spend dollars wisely and we’re doing quite well.”
Brown said the funding stream changed in 2016 when voters approved allocation for 25 percent of the tax to parks, 2 percent for administrative funds and “a significant portion” for the repayment of the wastewater treatment plant debt for the first five years.
“The leftovers, right now, go to the street fund,” Brown said. “Starting in 2023, that 73 percent is fully allocated to the street fund. By 2023 you’re going to get a 20-year (capital improvement plan) program starting this next budget season that will obligate every penny of that money methodically.”
Brown said that such a lengthy plan smooths future budgets and planning actions. Some projects can take 18 or more months to complete, mostly due to a lengthy permits process through the county or other entities.
Councilor Rich Rosenthal asked if Brown plans to use bond funds for a longer period.
Brown said that a resolution to borrow funds has been approved in the past, and if necessary, could be an option. But both Brown and City Administrator Kelly Madding emphasized that there may not be a need to borrow substantial amounts of money.
Brown said she’s looking at project capacity by how many projects she can complete within the biennium.
“If we have designs ready to go and if it makes sense to you when we bring you the 20-year plan, we can front-load those and pay it back,” Brown said. “We wouldn’t have to bond, but we would be borrowing and paying the street fund back.”
Rosenthal also asked how much an ADA accessible ramp costs. Brown said the new ADA regulations for city infrastructures are “incredibly tight.” She said each curb ramp, now required, could cost around $4-6,000 per ramp, and that some streets require four ramps.
She said she tries to group projects on the same street together, so that projects such as water and sewer line work is completed before the road is paved, but it would be inconvenient to the community if Hersey Street and North Mountain were worked on simultaneously. Therefore, the plan is to spread the projects around over the 20-year plan.
Brown said the street projects have been prioritized in an efficient way. Some roads can be patched up while other road repairs are delayed to save resources without sacrificing safety.