Fresno’s Public Works Department is due for a 55 percent increase in its budget for badly needed road repaving in the 2016-17 fiscal year that begins July 1.
But the $3.6 million included in Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s proposed budget is a far cry from covering the backlog of road repairs needed across the city, Public Works Director Scott Mozier told the Fresno City Council during a budget hearing Thursday afternoon.
The money is expected to enable city crews to overlay or repave about 33 lane-miles of streets in Fresno, Mozier said, compared with about 23 miles in the 2015-16 budget year. But, Mozier added, the city has a total of about 3,800 lane-miles of roads to take care of. A lane-mile is just what it sounds like: one mile of a single lane on a street. A one-mile length of Shaw Avenue, which has three lanes in each direction, represents six lane-miles.
But Mozier isn’t looking a gift horse in the mouth. “This is a good budget” compared with recent years in which the city has struggled to recover from the effects of a recession, he said.
This budget puts $14 million into paving. But the need is actually about $22 million a year, so we’re still $8 million short.
Scott Mozier, Fresno public works director
The total budget for the Public Works Department is about $149.2 million, most of which comes from special sources of revenue including gasoline taxes and other money outside of the city’s general fund – the pot of money from which many of Fresno’s day-to-day bills are paid.
The department, like every other city department, is hamstrung in what it can accomplish in repairs of streets, curbs, gutters, sidewalks, streetlights, traffic signals, landscape maintenance and tree trimming by the amount of money available. And while some sources of income for the department – including gasoline taxes and Fresno’s share of money from Fresno County’s Measure C sales tax supplement – are expected to increase slightly, others are shrinking. That includes a drop of about $580,000 in excise taxes on gasoline that were reduced by the state Board of Equalization.
When asked by the council for a “wish list” of needs that could be met if more money were available, Mozier talked first about deferred maintenance – necessary repairs that have been put off in previous budget years because of a lack of funds.
“This budget puts $14 million into paving,” Mozier said. “But the need is actually about $22 million a year, so we’re still $8 million short.” Those needs include not only complete street repaving and overlays, but slurry or crack sealing that helps extend the life of aging roads that are not yet in need of repaving.
He added that Fresno is not alone in dealing with tight budgets. “Our colleagues in other cities and other counties are all dealing with that,” he said. “The gas-tax model (of paying for transportation needs) is not taking care of what we have.”
Ideally, Mozier said, streets would be repaved on a 20-year cycle, with a slurry seal applied at 10 years, halfway through the life span of the pavement.
The new budget also boosts the amount of money available for emergency concrete repairs from $1.4 million last year to more than $2.2 million. That is crucial to getting crews out to make fast work of reported tripping hazards where tree roots have raised up sidewalks. Reports of such problems have grown as more residents use the city’s FresGo website and mobile application to submit complaints.
“Ten years ago, to keep up on tree-damaged concrete was a $5 million-a-year effort,” Mozier said. “So we’re short of what it would take to truly keep up.”