Repaving project will reduce maintenance costs, says city

An ordinance to spend up to $638,000 to repave nine Homer streets returns to the Homer City Council’s agenda at its meeting at 6 p.m. Monday in the Cowles Council Chambers, City Hall. Funding would come from the Homer Accelerated Trails and Roads program, a $7 million fund.

Public Works superintendent Dan Gardner described the HART fund as a depreciation fund.

“It’s not coming out of the general fund,” he said. “That’s’ the bottom line.”

The repaving project points to a seeming contradiction in the city’s budget. In times of declining revenues, operating budgets are tight while funds like the HART remain healthy. The repaving project would spend HART funds to reduce maintenance costs, Gardner said in a memorandum to the council.

“I had public concerns over the use of funds to rebuild all the roads,” council member Bryan Zak said at the April 11 council meeting in why he asked for reconsideration. “I want to know if we need to do all the roads.”

While Ordinance 16-10 passed without objection at the March 29 meeting, on a motion by Zak, the council moved to reconsider the ordinance at the April 11 meeting. Mayor Beth Wythe broke a tie vote to bring the ordinance back to the table, with Zak and council members Heath Smith and Gus VanDyke voting for reconsideration and council members David Lewis, Donna Aderhold and Catriona Reynolds voting no.

The city proposes to repave portions of nine city streets that have potholes, cracks and other damage Gardner said makes maintenance expensive to do. The roads to be repaved are East Bunnell Avenue, Beluga Place (the road to Bishop’s Beach), Early Spring Street, Mark White Avenue, Mullikin Street, Clover Lane and Clover Place, Hillview Place and Kachemak Way.

In discussions, council members asked what would happen if the repaving project were put off another year or two. Smith wanted to know if the projects other than Bunnell Avenue and Beluga Place could be postponed. Lewis wanted to know if the cost for repaving would go up in a year or two. Reynolds wanted to know the impact on 

the city’s budget if the repaving isn’t done. The council without objection approved postponing a new vote on the ordinance until Monday’s meeting, when Public Works could provide more information.

Gardner said he understood the council’s concerns about the repaving projects.

“It’s a worthy conversation to have whether to prioritize them or decide how much to do,” he said.

Under the city’s HART policy manual, the purpose of the HART fund is “to reconstruct local substandard city roads and/or upgrade existing city roads, construct new city streets and nonmotorized trails, thereby reducing maintenance cost, improving access, increasing property values and improving the quality of life.”

Seven of the streets in the proposed project were originally paved in 1983 and 1984. East Bunnell Avenue and Beluga Place were paved in 1999, but had thinner asphalt. Bunnell had a drain pipe running under it fail this winter. The pipe has been fixed, but right now there’s a big bump just east of Main Street. The city would repave that section when the entire street is repaved. It would pave up to speed humps installed last year on Bunnell Avenue and Beluga Place.

In a phone interview, Gardner said reducing maintenance was the main reason for repaving the nine streets. 

“These roads are getting to a state of disrepair that they need to be replaced,” Gardner said. “They’re starting to come apart and we believe it’s warranted.”

Clover Lane and Clover Place have extensive cracks, Gardner noted. As part of routine repairs, Public Works crews seal cracks to keep water from getting under the asphalt and causing the road bed to fall apart or get frost heaves.

“If you don’t seal these things, you have problems,” he said.

To clean the cracks requires extra sweeping time. Repair crews have to blow out sand from the cracks with compressed air. It also takes four times as much crack sealing material to repair streets like Clover Lane. Roads with cracks also can be harder to plow in snowfalls and take more passes with a grader. All of that costs more.

“It’s slower — more work, more personnel,” Gardner said. “The more time you spend on roads that get worse and worse … It just takes from other maintenance stuff you could be doing.”

Gardner didn’t know how much the cost of maintenance would go down compared to the cost of repaving.

“It’s hard to put numbers to,” he said. “We could keep these things going, probably for years. But one pot of money is there. It’s not part of the general fund. We don’t have enough money in our operating fund to do this kind of maintenance.”

In a vote in December, citizens approved suspending for three years putting .75-percent of city sales taxes into the HART fund. That raises about $1 million that now goes into the general fund, so in effect some HART money for things like road maintenance is in the general fund.

If the council doesn’t want to support repaving, Gardner had another suggestion: Maybe the HART fund could be tapped to allow some pavement patching of part of the roads.

In a memo to the council on the repaving projects, Gardner also wrote that as the city discusses ending or modifying HART, continual funding of asphalt replacement should be part of the discussion.

“If this program is ever dissolved, a depreciation fund should be firmly established to replace failing asphalt as operations budgets have not been able to support the needed paving projects,” he wrote.