Supes consider sales tax increase for road repairs |

Supes consider sales tax increase for road repairs

El Dorado County voters may soon be asked to approve a half-cent sales tax to fix their road system.

The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved $47,000 so that the County Department of Transportation could hire a consultant firm to take the first steps toward getting a sales tax initiative on the November ballot.

The funding approved by the supervisors was scaled down from the original total of $86,735, which was requested in a presentation by El Dorado County Director of Transportation Mike Stoltz. The funds were for a 10-stage plan to gauge voter interest and to generally put things into motion for such an initiative.

While the board agreed that the county’s road system is badly in need of repair, the initial price tag quoted by Stoltz to get the initiative on the ballot took them by surprise.

“I have serious concerns about spending $87,000 just for information,” said Fourth District Supervisor Penny Humphreys. “I, for one, would like to see a better outline before we move forward.”

All of the supervisors present (Third District Supervisor Mark Nielsen was absent) were more or less in agreement with Humphreys’ sentiment. So what was agreed on (by a 3-1 vote) was an approval of the first five stages of the DOT’s plan, costing roughly half of the original request. Once the first stages are complete (sometime in May), the board will vote on the remainder of the proposal.

Voting against the item was First District Supervisor Sam Bradley, who objected to the DOT’s selection of the consulting firm of Smith & Kempton.

“Otherwise, in principle, I’m for this,” Bradley said.

The Department of Transportation estimates that a minimum of $3.5 million is needed annually to preserve county roadways.

“Without proper surface treatment, the structural integrity of the road base could be lost,” said Stoltz. “This means that subsequent rehabilitation of the roads can be four to five times the cost of preventative maintenance.”

The DOT estimates that a half-cent sales tax would generate $5.7 million per year, and cost each household roughly $48 annually. The revenue would be split between the county and the cities of Placerville and South Lake Tahoe.

“This is important to us, because the crumbling road system in Tahoe is one of our top concerns,” said Fifth District Supervisor Dave Solaro. “If this is done right, I don’t see any reason why such an initiative wouldn’t pass.

“If Tahoe residents know what they’re voting on; what is going to occur on what street; I believe the support is there,” he said. “We just need some assurances that this revenue isn’t going to be sucked into some black hole in the county.”

Second District Supervisor Ray Nutting echoed those sentiments.

“Because of the extreme temperatures, the roads in the Tahoe area are very much deteriorating,” Nutting said. “I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from residents in the unincorporated areas there (about a sales tax initiative). The Meyers Roundtable acknowledged support of this.”

The proposed tax revenue would only go toward fixing county roads – those not within the city limits of South Lake Tahoe or Placerville.

The first thing that needs to be done, according to Solaro and Nutting, is to rally community support.

“The community has to be the champion of this,” Solaro said.

That might be easier said than done, however. A sales tax initiative might go over well in the South Lake Tahoe area, where deteriorating roads are a major issue. But the concept might be a harder sell on the west slope, where the problems are not as pronounced.

“I’m concerned that we don’t seem to be looking at other options,” said Virginia Crespo, a resident of Rescue. “Is a sales tax the only way to go? I think that it’s premature to specify a sales tax.”

But most agree that something needs to be done, and soon.

“I would encourage the board to identify a mechanism to fix the roads as soon as possible,” said Matt Boyer, the Executive Director of the El Dorado County Transportation Commission. “Road maintenance is one of those silent things; you don’t see the decay until it’s too late.”

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