By EMMALEE C. TORISK
To Mayor Terry Stocker, if the city lacks streets that are both presentable and safe, it has major issues.
That’s why he thinks residents should pass a levy to fund street resurfacing as soon as fall 2014, before the city’s aging and deteriorating roads get any worse.
Last week, when Stocker and Ed Wildes, safety service director, informally surveyed streets in the city’s four wards, which consist of more than 70 miles of roadway, they became concerned.
Most were cracking, flaking and full of patches.
“Quite a few of our roads are starting to fall apart. At that rate, within a year or two, they’re really going to be destroyed, ” Wildes said. “If we don’t do something pretty soon, it’s going to be too late.”
The city, however, has virtually exhausted every means possible to resurface its 135 streets, many of which haven’t been paved in about two decades, Stocker said. He added that the cost of doing so has “doubled or tripled” since then, while funding has dried up.
Lacking resources to make major repairs, the city has instead relied on temporary fixes, such as filling up holes with hot asphalt, or “hot patch,” a solution that Stocker called “so embarrassing.”
“It’s a Band-Aid,” he said. “We’re not getting anywhere.”
Last year, the city spent almost $9,000 on 137 tons of hot patch and 685 street-department man-hours, Wildes said.
So far this year, he added, the task of patching holes has cost the city almost $3,000 for 44 tons and 221 man-hours.
“Street department workers don’t have much time to devote to anything else,” Wildes said. “[Some streets] are filled with nothing but patches. That’s no way to run a city.”
Now, Stocker said, is the time to begin seriously considering additional revenue sources to support long-term solutions.
He added that many of the city’s main arteries coming into the community were recently resurfaced with the help of federal grants, leaving side streets most in need of repair. A recent analysis by MS Consultants of Youngstown, though, found that paving half of the city’s streets within the next 10 years would cost $680,000 per year, or $6.8 million overall.
“That’s a lot of money,” Stocker said. “We need to find something that would address and offset those costs.”
Christina Bohl, auditor, said the city’s general fund “certainly will not be able to withstand” the expense of major road resurfacing, especially with cuts in state assistance.
In addition, although the city has received grants and other aid in the past, it can no longer rely on those sources alone because of both shrinking amounts and increased competition, Stocker said.
The answer, then, for funding such projects is generating local money, which would be earmarked only for road repairs, he added.
Possible funding sources for a resurfacing program include an increase in the license-plate tax for registered vehicles in the city, or through a levy that is specific to roadway resurfacing, paid through property taxes.
But even increasing the license plate tax to the maximum amount permitted by state law, or from $15 to $20, would generate only about $43,000 annually, or enough to resurface less than half a mile, Stocker said.
Depending on the millage, a levy could generate a significant amount of funds, and, as such, is probably be the best — and only — option, he said.
“No millages have been imposed by the city in years, but we have come to the point where I think people will be receptive,” Stocker said. “The money is going to where it’s going to benefit them: into road repairs and resurfacing.”
City council will reconvene in September after the summer recess, and will likely then review the possibility of placing a street-resurfacing program levy on next year’s ballot, he said.
The rally focused on opposition to fracking wastewater disposal in Ohio. Some protesters, like Roxanne Groff of Athens, Ohio, contend the state has become a toilet, or dumping ground, for the waste.