Boulder County continues to maintain unincorporated subdivision roads

Boulder County continues to maintain unincorporated subdivision roads

The Board of County Commissioners and Transportation staff have been working with county residents for more than four years to find a solution for paying for the reconstruction of unincorporated paved subdivision roads. While county maintenance (pothole patching, snow removal, etc.) of these roads has continued since their construction – and will continue into the future – many roads are now at the point where they require extensive reconstruction.

County Commissioners seek permanent solution to reconstructing subdivision roads

We recognize that we need a solid long-term strategy to tackle this issue, and we appreciate the dedicated work of residents who are looking for ways to help solve this problem.

The county budget has always accounted for the ongoing maintenance of subdivision roads, but the more extensive rehabilitation of roads are considered capital improvements, and exceeds our definition of “operations and maintenance,” which addresses daily activities such as patching pot holes, crack sealing, and snow removal.

Everyone agrees that the longer we wait, the further the roads will deteriorate. Where there is disagreement is in how to pay for the reconstruction and repaving of these roads.

No easy solutions

The same mill levy (property tax rate) is assessed on every property in the county (city or unincorporated) and as a result, property owners in towns and cities pay about 85% of property taxes collected for Boulder County. Because all property owners contribute to property tax revenue, we use this revenue to fund programs that benefit all county residents, such as law enforcement, emergency response, district attorney, courts, public health, human services, operations and maintenance of county parks, as well as placing a higher priority on upkeep of those roads and bridges that benefit all residents of the county.

We cannot increase the Road and Bridge Mill Levy ten-fold, as the BoCo FIRM plan proposes, without making significant reductions in other services or increasing everyone’s taxes. To us, asking all county taxpayers to pay more – or receive less – so that local subdivision roads can be rehabilitated without a meaningful share being paid by those who directly benefit is not fair. City residents already pay additional taxes for their neighborhood roads.

Before shifting county priorities, there needs to be a countywide conversation about how to pay for unincorporated subdivision road reconstruction

Problems with the BoCo FIRM proposal

The BoCo FIRM proposal was presented for consideration on Oct. 7 at a meeting where we invited the members of the former subdivision paving LID advisory committee to a study session to hear their ideas on how to proceed. We have reviewed the proposal and find it problematic in three important ways:

Problem 1: BoCo FIRM proposes to increase the Road & Bridge Fund mill levy tenfold to 1.8 mils (i.e., $9-10 million/per year), which would require cuts of $9-10 million to other county programs (such as law enforcement, emergency response, district attorney, courts, public health, human services, operations and maintenance of county parks) that benefit all county residents.

Asking all county taxpayers to receive fewer services so that local subdivision access roads can be rehabilitated, without a meaningful contribution by those who directly benefit, does not seem fair.

Problem 2: The BoCo FIRM proposal to increase the Road & Bridge Fund mill levy will actually decrease the total amount of funding available to the county by $5 million per year.
Not only would the BoCo FIRM plan require $10 million in cuts to county services, it would provide only $5 million for rehabilitation of the subdivision roads. This will occur because state law requires that the Road & Bridge Fund mill levy be “shared back” to the incorporated cities and towns in the county. In our situation, under the BoCo FIRM proposal, we would have to send about half of the Road & Bridge Fund mill levy, approximately $5 million, to the cities and towns. BoCo FIRM readily admits to (and approves of) this aspect of the plan.

It is for this reason that the county, since the early 1990s, has gradually reduced the Road & Bridge Fund mill levy, and increased the specific ownership tax (a sales tax on auto registrations in the county) allocation to the roads budget. It makes little sense to increase the Road & Bridge Fund mill levy and reduce the funds available for county services; yet that’s essentially the outcome of the BoCo FIRM proposal.

Asking all county taxpayers to receive fewer services and send more money to the cities so that local access subdivision roads can be rehabilitated – without a meaningful contribution by those who directly benefit – seems neither fair, nor a wise policy, especially given the difficult financial challenges we face during our flood recovery.

Problem 3: The BoCo FIRM proposal means that city taxpayers will pay even more for the repaving of local unincorporated subdivision roads and experience a reduction in services – with no meaningful contribution from those who would benefit.
Over the past three years, the county has spent over $700,000 per year on maintenance (crack sealing, pothole patching, snow removal, etc.) of more than 150 miles of paved subdivision roads. In addition, recognizing that about 20% of subdivision roads are used to get to schools, places of worship, trailheads, and other community facilities that are used by, and benefit, all county residents, we have committed to pay for 20% (about $955,000 per year) of the total cost of subdivision road rehabilitation. In 2014, we spent our “20% contribution” ($955,000) on rehabilitation of community-use subdivision road projects that are underway now, and will be completed this fall.

Our budget for maintenance and rehabilitation of county roads is about $12 million. The average household in Boulder County (out of about 130,000 households in the city and unincorporated county) contributes $93 per year towards the upkeep of all 650 miles of unincorporated county roads (including subdivision roads).The average household in a paved road subdivision currently receives $70/year in maintenance services on their roads; meaning they only contribute $23 per year towards the upkeep of all the non-subdivision county roads. The result is that city households pay 4 times as much as subdivision households for the upkeep of the non-subdivision unincorporated county roads in addition to what they pay in city fees and taxes for the upkeep of their city roads.

It does not seem fair for city taxpayers to pay more for the upkeep of local access subdivision roads, in addition to what they already pay for their own roads with no meaningful contribution from those who directly benefit.

Recent Claims Boulder County Response
False Claim #1: “The county promised to spend $4.5 million in 2014 on the rehabilitation of local subdivision roads, but when the judge ruled that a Local Improvement District (LID) was not an appropriate tool to fund that work, they canceled all the work and now refuse to spend those funds.” The county did have a plan to spend $4.5M on subdivision roads this year. However, most of the $4.5M budgeted for this work was money that was paid by residents of subdivisions as part of the LID. When the judge ruled that the county could not use a local improvement district for this purpose, the county refunded that money, with interest, to those property owners. The county no longer has those funds to spend on the improvements.
The county did commit to paying for 20% of the cost of the subdivision rehabilitation because about 20% of these local roads are also used by non-subdivision residents to get to schools, places of worship, trailheads and other community facilities.
That 20% county contribution (approximately $955,000 for 2014) has been spent this year on the following projects:Westview Drive
Heatherwood Drive
Twin Lakes
False Claim #2: “The County has done nothing on subdivision roads this year, nor has any maintenance ever been done on these roads.” Since 1995, Boulder County has annually allocated funds to provide maintenance on subdivision roads, including patching, pothole filling, striping, and snow removal. In an average year (2011-13) $700,000 is spent on maintaining these local roads.
The county has committed to fund 20% of the cost of rehabilitating subdivision roads which equates to about $955,000/year.
In 2014, the county has funded the rehabilitation of Heatherwood Drive, Westview Drive, and Twin Lakes, as these local roads are used by the larger community to get to community facilities.
While the county legally cannot make budget appropriations for coming years outside the annual budget process, the county commissioners have publically stated their intention to continue to fund 20% of the costs for local roads until the project is completed.
False Claim #3: “Boulder County has enough money in the General Fund right now to fix these roads.” Over time, Boulder County has saved for emergencies and other unanticipated needs. In the past year, we have spent all of our unencumbered reserve funds on flood recovery.
While the 2014 budget did include $64M in “general fund reserve,” more than $30M of those funds are restricted to specific uses and can’t be used for any other use, and another $4M is required by TABOR to be in our reserve fund and can’t be used for any other use.
Nearly $55.5 million has been spent on flood recovery, with only $7.5 million received in reimbursements. The expected total cost for flood recovery is $217 million, and while we expect to be reimbursed for much of this, there will be a long term shortfall of approximately $57 million.
False Claim #4: “Simply reverting to the 1995 funding for Road and Bridge projects would give the county enough funds to pay for these local roads.” The proposal from BoCo FIRM is to return to the 1995 level of funding for Road and Bridge projects by reinstating the 1.85 mil funding (ten-fold current amount) to the Road & Bridge Fund.
In 1995, the county, along with many other counties in Colorado, decreased the mill levy going into the Road and Bridge Fund in favor of increasing the Specific Ownership Tax being used for road and bridge projects.
The BoCo FIRM plan would require $10 million in cuts to county services and would provide only $5 million for rehabilitation of the subdivision roads. This will occur because state law requires that the road and bridge mill levy be “shared back” to the incorporated cities and towns in the county.
To revert back to the Road and Bridge funding in place in 1995, the county would need to increase the mill levy going to the Road and Bridge Fund, share back about half of the revenue to cities, and return the Specific Ownership Tax revenues to the General Fund. This would result in a net reduction in county revenue of approximately $5 million.
False Claim #5: ”The County is diverting over a million dollars a year from subdivision roads to fund projects like the Diagonal underpass at Airport Road and numerous bike lanes.” Funding for the Airport Road Underpass, which provides a safe way for Longmont residents to access the LOBO trail and transit stop, comes from two sources, a federal grant and the county .01% Road and Transit sales tax that was approved by the voters in 2001 and extended again by the voters in 2007.
The federal grant can only be used for this specific project, and the 0.10% sales tax can only be used for the approved project and cannot be transferred to any other purpose.
Only projects that meet the strict legal criteria of the 2007 ballot issue can be funded through this dedicated sales tax. Current projects such as the Diagonal underpass and many of the bike lane additions on county roads are funded through this sales tax.
Subdivision paving does not qualify as an eligible project for this revenue stream.
False Claim #6:”The County has spent between $800,000 and $1 million fighting the Subdivision Paving lawsuit.” Boulder County did not spend any money outside of salaried staff positions to respond to the lawsuit filed by BoCo FIRM. Rumors to the effect that the county spent upwards of $800,000 to $1 million to “fight the lawsuit” are patently false.
The Boulder County Attorney’s Office did all of the legal work in-house using salaried internal resources.
False Claim #7:”The County has reduced funding for transportation since the 1990s” In total, the Road & Bridge (R&B) Fund has increased an average of 4% annually since 1990. The portion of the R&B Fund that can be used for road maintenance and rehabilitation is funded from state gas tax, the specific ownership tax on vehicles, property tax (the R&B mill levy), and several small miscellaneous sources.
In addition, we receive funding from the voter approved 0.10% sales tax for specific transportation projects and periodic state and federal grants for specific projects.
False Claim #8: “The Commissioners willingly broke the law in imposing the LID.” Improvement Districts are used throughout Colorado to fund infrastructure projects in many cities and counties. In fact, subdivisions in Boulder County have used this tool to pay for the rehabilitation of their roads in the past (e.g., Palo Park)
The judge in the initial lawsuit filed against Boulder County determined that Local Improvement Districts were not an appropriate tool to fund road “maintenance;” However, the county believes that the work necessary to bring these roads back to a safe standard is not maintenance, but a capital improvement.
The county made the decision not to appeal this ruling and to look for another tool to fund this work the county could get to a solution instead of continue fighting in court. However, a second lawsuit has been filed against Boulder County by the same plaintiffs as the first filing.
Other counties, like Larimer, use improvement districts to fund all maintenance and reconstruction work on their public roads in unincorporated subdivisions.

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