South Tahoe faces aging snow fleet
After another winter with little snowfall, South Lake Tahoe officials are talking about their need to increase a parcel assessment to upgrade the city’s aging snow removal fleet.
“We made it through this winter, but that wasn’t much of a test,” said Ray Jarvis, director of public works. “We’re almost to 30 years with the same assessment and that’s not a sustainable situation.”
South Lake Tahoe established a $20 per improved parcel assessment in 1989 as a way to buy new snow removal equipment.
The city has bought 18 vehicles with money the assessment has raised, but it was created with no way to increase it for inflation and has gradually lost buying power, Jarvis said.
The assessment is generating about $225,000 per year. Presently, that money is paying for three graders bought for $284,000 each and a snow blower bought for $738,000, purchases made in 2007. That equipment will be paid off in 2016, freeing up the assessment’s revenue, but demands for it are expected to be strong.
The two dozen vehicles in South Lake Tahoe’s snow removal fleet are about 19 years old on average. With the vehicles aging, annual costs to maintain them have been about $288,000 per year over the last five years.
Costs to purchase such heavy equipment also have increased, with a new grader now costing nearly $400,000 and a complete rebuild costing about $280,000, Jarvis said.
“Everybody can understand that if costs continue to rise and revenues aren’t keeping up, eventually you have a real problem. That’s kind of where we’re at.”
South Lake Tahoe City Council reauthorized the annual snow removal assessment with a public hearing April 1, as required. At the hearing, several council members said the city eventually must look at updating the assessment.
“I hope we revisit this again and give it another shot,” Mayor Hal Cole said about the assessment and the lack of a way to increase it for inflation.
Councilman Tom Davis and councilwoman JoAnn Conner agreed it’s an issue that needs to be discussed. “We will have to take a hard look at this and bring it back in June or July,” Davis said.
Conner said the city’s snow removal fleet is in dire straits. “It may not be time to put it on the ballot, but we need to consider that in the near future,” she said.
According to city officials, the snow removal assessment would have to increase to about $35 per improved parcel to restore its buying power.
Jarvis said there might not be much public appetite to discuss raising taxes for snow removal in the middle of summer, but snow removal is a core city function, and along with police and fire services, one of the reasons the city of South Lake Tahoe initially incorporated.
“We need to reach out to the public and help them understand the need for that assessment, and the fact that it hasn’t been updated since 1989. We haven’t pinned down when we will bring that topic up, but we need to have that conversation,” he said.