Thursday, July 18, 2013

Citizens Express Concern and Frustration with Stuart Street

On July 17, 2013 more than 20 Stuart Subdivision residents met with Mayor Steven England and Public Works Director, Steven Smart.

The group had concerns about the condition of Stuart Street and the issues that potholes, frost buckle, and deterioration of pavement.  In addition, concerns with lack of sidewalks was also added.

One citizen said that he saw a motorcycle crash in front of him and said the cycle was going about 10 mph.  It was winter and it sounded to me like he was avoiding a buckle when the bike was laid down. Another resident stated that due to another car speeding and trying to avoid the poor conditions on Stuart, they were involved in an accident which did major damage to their truck.  In addition, another individual said every time she leaves her driveway her undercarriage gets damaged.  It appeared that this occurs due to the street sinking.  She went on to say that her son has had to repair the undercarriage several times now.

Another issue was the inability of children to use a sidewalk to get to the school bus stops on Stuart.  Part of that inability stems from incomplete sidewalks.  They noted that the children are forced to walk the middle of the street to get to the stops.  In addition, since many cars park on the street in that area, visibility is limited adding to the danger.  One individual had told me earlier that the snow plow does not come down Stuart even though it is a School Bus Route.

Finally, one of the citizens stated that when she had to be transported from her home by ambulance, she was told that they would need to wait till they exited Stuart Street to start her IV.  Other citizens agreed saying that they too have had experiences similar to what she described.

Mayor England stated that currently the City does not have the money to repair the road.  He continued saying, "there are a lot of roads in the older subdivisions that need repair or replacement."  He noted that codes were different when the subdivision was built, that standards were much lower and sidewalks not required.  It was further noted that the City does not build roads they're built by developers then deeded over to the City.  The Mayor also noted that funding from the gas tax and shrinking revenues has caused roads to go without maintenance or long-term repair.  He noted that the roads don't get replaced by the city unless there's an issue with water or sewer.  As for sidewalks, they are the responsibility of the citizen to repair according to state law; however, the City tries to replace sidewalks when doing road work; however, where sidewalks don't exist, they require permission of the residents to complete the sidewalk.

Public Works Director Steve Smart explained that the roads are being repaired based on the condition of the pavement rather than actual traffic use. One resident stated that using that criteria is wrong due to heavily traveled roads with poor pavement quality should have priority.  Director Smart noted that it would be difficult to assess the use of the road however, the City does have the information on the road quality to work from.

Both the Mayor and Director continued to state the cost of the replacement of the road is estimated at $1.5 million and that the City did not have the cash.  The Mayor noted that the City cannot take out loans against the Urban Renewal Areas so they had to wait for the money to come in.  Mayor England finally stated that the Chubbuck Development Authority (CDA) has Stuart slated for replacement in 2016.

Citizens left the meeting feeling that nothing would change.  Their frustration has not decreased due to having heard for years that Stuart would be taken care of.  Right or wrong, they felt the City has no interest in addressing the concerns.

My Observations  . . .

The City does have issues with falling revenues; however, road maintenance and replacement is largely an issue of priority.  In addition, we elect the Mayor and Council to prioritize spending from the City.  If the streets fail, they have failed in their responsibility.

Although unpopular with the Powers at City Hall, money can be released to get road maintenance completed.  This is how I see the Budget:

  • Utilities are able to make up to a 15% profit per state law.  Profit is after all costs for operation, maintenance, capital improvements and reserve funds have been satisfied.  Profit may be transferred to the General Fund without it being a loan.
    • I would submit a small 5% profit on all utilities would amount to $34,470.75 based on the revenue from FY Audited Financial Statement 2009.  The amount left after all expenses were satisfied was $689,415 in profit.  Due to the fact that the expenses on my reports were not broken out, I am assuming this includes funding the Cap Improvements account and the Reserve account.
  • Close the Urban Renewal Area and create new areas in the northern part of Chubbuck and the area around Knutsen Road.  State Farm may also need to be included within the Knutsen URA.
    • Tax Increment Financing (TIF) is NOT FREE, it is Property Tax that has been apportioned from other taxing districts and given to the Chubbuck Development Authority (CDA).  
    • TIF is restricted to only being used for improvement of an area (usually commercial) it cannot be used for:
      • Maintenance
      • Salaries outside of paid staff for the CDA itself
      • Anything outside the actual URA
    • TIF cannot be given to the General Fund (which funds all the City Services)
    • TIF monies collected but not used or necessary to pay remaining obligations cannot be kept by the City.  After closing the district any monies left over have to be reapportioned to the original taxing districts as follows:
      • Money will be distributed according to the levies assessed for each of the following districts:
        • City of Chubbuck General Fund
        • Bannock County
        • Bannock County Road and Bridge
        • Pocatello/Chubbuck SD 25
        • Mosquito Abatement District
        • Bannock County Ambulance
        • Portneuf Library

The amount that the City of Chubbuck could have had released to the General Fund in FY 2013 which ends in August, would have been $1,250,291.  This could fund the Street Department adequately and if necessary allow the City to take a loan since they could then use this property tax as the payment mechanism overwise called a Revenue Bond Contrary to earlier reports, the City does not "loose money" by closing the TIF, it actually frees money for the General Fund which desperately needs it.  Another way to look at it is the City is taking $1,250,291 from your property tax to pay for development.  Is that where you want to spend it?  TIF brought in about $1.8 million last year.  The difference is about $600,000.  
Although it is true that the amount the City gets would be about $600,000 less, they would actually free about $1.250 million into the General Fund.  The real loss with the TIF is that the growth in the City cannot pay for the services and maintenance it would normally support because it can only be used for development or to correct blight.

In addition, the Street Department is going to be cut by 5% and any capital improvement funds the City currently is funding will be dropped this year.  (Per Idaho State Journal 7/18/2013 article.)  Here we go again.  No maintenance and no planning for the future.  It appears that Chubbuck is going to be the next big sink hole.  What a shame.

If you care about this issue, you need to be at Chubbuck City Hall, July 23, 2013, 7:00 pm.  That is time for the hearing on the budget and the last chance to let the Council know what the Citizens want them to focus on.