City residents, if you receive a call asking you how you feel about an increase in sales tax to repair Placerville’s roads, don’t hang up. Repairing the nasty alligator cracks and potholes in Placerville’s roads emerged as the top priority of a Capitol Improvement Workshop held on Jan. 23. At the Feb. 11 Placerville City Council meeting, a review of the results of that meeting and a direction for how to address the city’s top needs was on the agenda.
With 57 percent of Placerville roads considered mediocre or substandard — 39 percent being substandard, according to standards used by a national transportation research firm — roadways in the city need repair. How to fund $19 million in deferred road maintenance was the subject of discussion on Jan. 23, with four options surfacing:
• Option 1: a 1/4-cent sales tax with a 30-year sunset, with money to be used for roads, a new police station, renovation of Town Hall and Old City Hall and repair of parking facilities;
• Option 2: a 3/8-cent sales tax increase with a 10-year sunset, with money to be used for roads and the previous mentioned facilities;
• Option 3, a 1/2-cent sales tax increase with a 10-year sunset, with money to be used for roads and facilities;
• Option 4, a 1/4-cent sales tax increase with a 10-30-year sunset, with money to be used for roads only.
The city receives revenues for roads from gas taxes and a share of transportation funds from the state. Gas taxes have been reduced by the influx of fuel-efficient cars and the other funds are not enough to do all the maintenance and repair the roads require. According to Mayor Carl Hagen, there were no long-term funds for road repair coming from the state on the horizon.
Other top priority city needs were parking facility maintenance and repair, a new police department, the renovation of Old City Hall and Town Hall and ADA improvements to existing sidewalks. City Manager Cleve Morris explained that while the city was open to other options for generating revenue for these projects, most would take a long time to develop.
“We discussed grants, parcel taxes, utility user taxes and sales tax and the pros and cons of each one. We have a tight time frame if we want to put this on the November ballot,” said Morris. “We do not go into this lightly — Placerville already has a higher sales tax than El Dorado County, although there are several jurisdictions that are similar to ours.”
“I think it puts the city and businesses at a disadvantage by having to collect more sales tax,” said Councilwoman Carol Patton. “Why isn’t there any money in the parking fund for the parking facility?”
Morris recommended a survey of Placerville residents to find what they would think of an increase in sales tax, much of which would be paid by tourism, and what option the public would choose for spending the revenues generated by a tax increase.
Councilwoman Wendy Thomas said, “$19 million in deferred maintenance scares me. We don’t have time to wait for economic development. We need the money for our roads now and a survey gives us a pulse of the community and what they want.”
“I’m in full support of a survey to find out what the people want and how we should proceed,” said Vice Mayor Patty Borelli. “I hate raising taxes, but I’ve been on the council for seven years and we’ve had the same issues: road repair, new police station needed, renovating Town Hall and Old City Hall and parking facilities the whole time and made no progress. These aren’t frivolous things — they are things we need.”
A choice between a mailed survey and a phone survey was discussed. Adam Probolsky, from Probolsky Research, one of three research firms contacted for proposals said, ”It can be difficult to get a random sample in a small town, but that’s our job and this is just one of the challenges. We have well-trained staff and they are very accommodating.”
A phone survey has the advantage of polling people most likely to be voting and getting a wide selection of demographics. “We can capture every bit of a person’s response on the phone, where most people won’t write a lot of information on a mail survey,” said Probolsky. “It’s a more accurate way of making sure the survey is reflective of all the voters and what they want.”
“Polling information is extremely valuable,” said Morris. “A mail survey of everyone doesn’t guarantee that we will hear from the people most likely to vote on the issue.”
City Council voted 4-1, with Councilwoman Carol Patton voting against, to enter into an agreement with a polling firm to perform phone polling for streets and facilities, approving a budget appropriation from the General Fund Reserve for Economic Uncertainties of $10,000 for the contract. A Website survey will be another part of the polling.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.