COLUMBIA — The condition of Columbia's streets dominated the discussion at the Columbia City Council retreat Friday.
A citizen survey conducted this spring and presented at the retreat showed 57 percent of respondents were dissatisfied with the condition of city streets.
A city employee survey: The survey measured engagement of city employees. Employees who are new or had spent many years in their employment were found to be most engaged with work. Results also suggested good public service motivation among city employees.
A Columbia Vision Commission update: Draft recommendations for progress on Imagine Columbia’s Future are online for a 30-day public comment period.
Health care reform: City employee coverage may undergo significant changes in 2014 because of federal health care reform legislation.
Storm water: The Storm Water Task Force and city staff are still working on solutions to storm water problems.
Tourism: The city manager and City Council members discussed concerns about the possible merging of the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Office of Cultural Affairs.
Columbia Regional Airport: City Manager Mike Matthes wants to get a new international hub nailed down before expanding the terminal.
City Manager Mike Matthes pointed out that some problematic roads such as Providence Road, which is a state road, are not maintained by the city. He said many people probably wouldn’t know these roads are not city roads.
The use of salt to combat winter precipitation was discussed as a possible reason for road deterioration.
Public Works Director John Glascock said salt is corrosive to roads but could not be blamed for the conditions because the city just switched to salt-only road treatments in the last year.
Glascock said road maintenance is the root of the issue.
“The salt itself laying on top of the streets is not a problem,” Glascock said. “It’s when it gets in the cracks of the streets and those kind of things. … The problem is we don’t maintain the streets to keep the water out. The water gets underneath, and freeze-thaw makes the potholes. The salt just exacerbates that.”
Matthes emphasized that winter freezing and thawing cause more damage to the streets than salt.
“So the real impact this year, I would guess 80 percent of the damage you see is from winter," Matthes said
But Matthes reined in hopes for solving the street and sidewalk problems.
“If we’re wildly successful (in increasing investment in streets), it will not be very much," Matthes said. "To live within our means and meet all of the demands we have, as well as … move to a budget where we aren’t using fund balance to balance it. It won’t be huge. We won’t be doubling this. Far less than that.”
Finance Director John Blattel said that, in fiscal year 2012, it is projected that of the $9.6 million half-cent transportation sales tax funds, about $5 million, would have uses related to streets and sidewalks.
During fiscal year 2010, according to the city’s Infrastructure Task Force, about $6.3 million of the $9.4 million transportation sales tax funds went to uses related to streets and sidewalks. During fiscal year 2011, the amount was about $5 million out of $9.6 million.
Blattel said funding for streets and sidewalks also comes from a gasoline tax and from the Special Road District Tax. However, Blattel said the bulk of the street repair fund comes from the transportation sales tax.
Phebe LaMar, chairwoman of the Infrastructure Task Force, said transportation sales taxes have increased in the last few decades and capital improvements taxes have continued, and the city has found other ways to fund street creation and maintenance.
Despite this, she said the amount of general revenue directed toward streets and sidewalks has “decreased pretty substantially in the last 10 to 15 years.”
“Which means that the amount of dollars that’s being spent on it has also, at least during some years, decreased substantially," LaMar said.
LaMar said streets and sidewalks are getting a big chunk of the transportation sales tax funds but it’s not enough to solve a nearly $14 million capital improvement deficit.
“We believe there is an overwhelming need in the area of streets and sidewalks in the city of Columbia, particularly with regard to streets,” LaMar said. “We are underfunding the (capital improvement) projects for streets, which includes, from what we could tell, major maintenance to streets, as well as expansion, addition of streets, that sort of thing, by almost $14 million.”
LaMar said the city might not be able to raise any amount near $14 million, but solutions for increased funding are needed.
“The fact is we’ve been racking our brains trying to figure out ideas for where we can get some additional funding and how we can structure it so there will be additional funding to address what appears to be a very substantial need,” LaMar said.
When Mayor Bob McDavid questioned whether the city could afford to address storm water problems without also approaching street problems, Matthes suggested addressing both at the same time.
“It’s all infrastructure,” Matthes said. “It all needs to be repaired, rebuilt. There might be some value in just treating them all at the same time, with some kind of capital investment.”
McDavid called for a comparison with other cities with similar climates to determine relatively how much money Columbia is putting into the streets and sidewalks.
“I think the conventional wisdom is that we’re not funding this infrastructure very well,” McDavid said, “but it’d be nice to validate that.”
However, McDavid acknowledged a decline in streets and sidewalks funding.
“Not to be overly pessimistic,” he said, “but some of the major sources of funding for capital improvements in streets and sidewalks are going south on us.”
The retreat will resume at 7:55 a.m. Saturday in the City Council chamber.