City council takes long road on street repairs

There are two ways of looking at the Grand Junction City Council’s quandary to fund street improvements.

First, some background. The city needs to invest $6.6 million in the city’s streets in the next five years to get its Pavement Condition Index rating to a satisfactory 73. Streets are currently rated a 69.

It doesn’t have that kind of money on hand. But if it doesn’t begin to put some money into improvements, those costs will go up. The longer the city waits, the more expensive the improvements will be.

The city has $11.2 million in a fund that was created in 2007 when voters agreed to an override of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, allowing the city to keep excess property taxes to retire debt on the Riverside Parkway ahead of schedule.

The city refinanced the parkway debt in 2012, shaving $7.5 million in interest off the total owed, putting the city on target to retire the debt in 2021.

If the city made its parkway payment from the TABOR override fund for three years, it would free up money for street maintenance and improvement. It would also extend the life of the debt by three years, adding about $830,000 in interest.

The city could simply pass a resolution to extend the debt, but council members on Wednesday indicated they want voters to have a say in the form of a ballot question.

On one hand, the council can be commended for observing the spirit of TABOR and giving voters a voice on a matter involving taxpayer dollars.

That’s the safe approach.

On the other hand, the council could be criticized for lacking the political courage to do what they’re elected to do — gather information, solicit public input, get advice from city staff and make a decision in the best interests of the city and its residents.

This abundance of caution — putting anything remotely controversial to a vote of the people — isn’t very efficient. It costs money to get questions on the ballot. It takes man hours to put city staffers in front of citizens to explain why this strategy makes sense. It forces voters who are already comfortable with extending the debt to go to the polls to see the action through.

Councilors have consistently said street maintenance and improvement is a budget priority. They have the means to make good on that commitment with a creative financing mechanism that won’t encumber taxpayers. Putting the city’s repair schedule on hold would generate costs that would rival, if not exceed, savings from retiring the debt early.

The city will make these points hoping to win voters over. But what if it fails? It defeats the purpose of having a representative government. If the council thinks this is the way to go, it should act decisively, not reinforce the notion that voters have to approve every decision involving money.

Regardless, we support the idea of tapping the TABOR fund to get roads up to par in an expedited fashion and we hope the city can make a convincing case, since it’s choosing to go this route.


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