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Rifle could incur debt to fix roads

Ryan Hoffman
rhoffman@citizentelegram.com

In addition to seven candidates for city council, voters will likely be asked to answer the question: Should the city incur millions in debt to help fix deteriorating roads throughout Rifle?

Council unanimously approved the first reading of the ballot question July 1.

Rather than establish a new tax or increase the rate of an existing tax, the city would borrow up to $5 million by issuing sales and use tax bonds for road improvements, with an $8.023 million cap on the total cost of repaying the sum with interest.

In a memo to council, City Manager Matt Sturgeon cited an approximate cost of $2.9 million to address streets with immediate repair needs. With budget forecasts predicting $973,000 in revenue from the existing ½-cent sales tax in 2015, the city does not have enough money to perform those immediate repairs, which do not include maintenance work to extend the life of other existing streets. “We need to start moving forward on some of these streets. The winters keep beating them up and the further they go into deterioration the more costly the fixes become,” Sturgeon told council.

If approved, some of the money would go toward equipment that would allow the city perform smaller repairs and maintenance work in a more immediate and timely manner, creating what City Engineer Rick Barth referred to as an “elastic maintenance program.” That work could extend the life of some roads up to another 10 years, preventing the need for a massive and costly rebuild in the near future.

With currently low interest rates, now would be the time to borrow, attorney Jim Neu told council.

“Interest rates are as low as they’re ever gong to be, so it’s not free money but it’s almost free money,” he said. “If this passes you’re gong to enjoy all the benefits of these street improvements without really having to pay anything more for them.”

A map highlighting maintenance needs in the city shows 3.51 miles of road in need of urgent repair and another 3.73 miles listed as important. Another 6.57 miles of road is categorized as noticeable. Sections of road in all three categories appear across the city and are not limited to one specific region, based on the map.

Several councilors spoke in favor of the proposed maintenance approach before voting to approve the ballot question. Noting that infrastructure such as streets in becoming increasingly important in property valuations, Councilor Dirk Myers said that now is the time to get ahead of the issue.

“I think it’s needed,” he said at the meeting. “Instead of putting band aids on like we have year after year, get it done. And I don’t think anyone wants to see their value of their property go down because they live on a street that isn’t maintained correctly.”

Citing the water plant as an example of the pricey cost of deferred maintenance, Councilor Joe Elliott said that now is the time to “get the ball rolling.”

While agreeing with the need for an organized maintenance program, Mayor Randy Winkler said he wished the ballot language clearly stated that there would be no increase in sales tax if approved.

The ballot language was written in accordance with the Tax Payer Bill of Rights, which mandates a question of incurring debt be put before the voters, said Neu, adding that part of the reason for the language is to present an objective question. The rest will be left up to campaigns, he said.

Council will consider a second reading of the ballot question at its meeting July 15.


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