Measure Z funding focused on road repairs

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – Given $700,000 of unspent Measure Z public safety tax revenue, Humboldt County’s Board of Supervisors has decided to spend most of it on road maintenance.

The link between public safety and the condition of the county’s roads was emphasized as supervisors made Measure Z spending decisions at their November 14 meeting.

Up for use is $1 million in unspent Measure Z funding in the current fiscal year, with about $335,000 of it having been previously set aside for alcohol and drug treatment services.

County department heads made cases for using the remaining money on important public safety-related needs.

County Sheriff Billy Honsal described two radio communication needs – doing a feasibility study on consolidation of dispatch services and setting money aside for contribution to a multi-million dollar upgrade of the county’s “failing” radio system infrastructure.

But county roads are also failing and there’s a huge maintenance backlog. Senate Bill 1, the state’s transportation funding law, will channel tax revenue to local roads but county Public Works Director Tom Mattson said the need for funding far outweighs any one source of it.

“I know we have SB 1 coming but as I’ve said and said and said, that’s just one-third of what we need to just keep our roads the way they are now,” he continued.

Mattson said there are between 160 and 170 storm-damaged road sites in unincorporated areas “that didn’t get touched last year because we didn’t have the money.” Federal approval of relief funding has only been gained for 11 sites, he continued.

The tab for last year’s storm damage to roads is $20 million, said Mattson, and even if it was fully covered the county would have to pay a $2 million match.

“Our roads fund is running on fumes right now,” Mattson told supervisors.

Supervisor Mike Wilson had suggested holding the unspent money for next year but Mattson said that putting off road work will make it more expensive as the price of asphalt inflates.

In discussing the Sheriff Office’s request for funding the radio infrastructure project, County Administrative Officer Amy Nilsen said that any county contribution to it will have a leveraging effect as grant funding is sought.

A consultant has estimated that the project will cost $4 million but it will enhance emergency and public works responses.

“We really have a communications inability in this county, in our remote areas, and that’s where we have vulnerable populations and that’s where we can’t get to people during winter storms,” said Nilsen, adding that any contribution would “help move this project forward.”

Supervisor Rex Bohn returned the focus to roads. He said, “I’m sorry, our roads are the living hell.”

Wilson questioned whether there’s public support for using Measure Z funds on roads, as a transportation ballot measure proposed by the Humboldt County Association of Governments was rejected by voters last year.

But Supervisor Estelle Fennell said that measure was subsequent to Measure Z, which included road improvements in its list of goals. She said road-related needs have direct public safety relevance and are readily observable.

“It’s  not so much even the complaints and the concerns, it’s just seeing it – there is a pressing safety issue out there with regard to our roads,” she continued.

After discussion and amendments to an initial motion, supervisors voted to use $500,000 of the unspent tax revenue on county road work.

The rest was split among Hoopa’s K’ima:w Medical Center for a digital radio upgrade,  an additional evidence processing position in the District Attorney’s Office, the dispatch consolidation study, funding for the county’s 2-1-1 services referral and disaster relief hotline and a contribution toward the radio infrastructure project.

Bohn noted that Measure Z’s five-year window for voter-approved renewal will end in 2019. He called for spending decisions that will yield demonstrable results, saying, “This is results-driven and the public needs to see results.”

The county is expecting $11 million of Measure Z revenue in the current fiscal year.


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