Belmont officials are moving toward asking residents for a new tax to assist in funding $140 million in deferred improvement projects for its streets, sewers, storm drains, parks and civic buildings.
The City Council voted last night to begin evaluating the possibility of a revenue measure to address costly maintenance of its infrastructure.
“I would say that the community has spoken loud and clearly that they’re not happy with the infrastructure in Belmont. One of the big problems that there’s strong agreement on, is that the roads are in very poor shape and the community is not happy about that,” Mayor Warren Lieberman said. “So what the council is beginning to do is look at options of how to undertake those improvements.”
The council allotted $30,000 to conduct a public poll to ascertain specific concerns and support for a measure dedicated to city infrastructure needs. Between 300 to 400 members of the public will be asked about their amenability to various ballot initiatives such as bonds, parcel tax, sales tax or utility tax measures, according to a staff report.
“It’s financing [repairs] through bonds. So what we need to do is see whether the community is interested in financing road improvements through bond measures. It’s a situation where we are clearly looking to the community to see how strongly they are in support of improvements to the roads and their appetite for improving those roads,” Lieberman said.
Councilwoman Christine Wozniak said she would like to provide a way for all members of the public to engage in the survey through comment on the city’s website while the poll is being conducted.
Addressing infrastructure repairs was a core platform during the last council election and clearly the community wants the city to invest in its property; it’s now just a matter of gaining voter support, Lieberman said.
Prior to the recent restructuring of the City Council, there was never enough council support to propose a ballot measure to residents, Lieberman said.
Councilman Charles Stone congratulated staff for determining a way to reach out and empower the public.
“Outreach, outreach, outreach is the answer and the extent that we’re proposing to involve the various stakeholders is fantastic. ... If we’re going to gain the confidence of the public, it’s going to be through outreach, transparency and engagement,” Stone said.
Putting a revenue measure on a ballot is new tactic for the city to assume; but after identifying about $140 million in deferred improvements, it needs citizen support, said Thomas Fil, Belmont’s finance director.
“It’s a question of not having adequate resources in order to keep up with the need. So it’s quite common to ask the voters to participate in providing revenue to maintain infrastructure. So that’s what we’re going to explore,” Fil said.
The multi-million dollar repair list includes city storm drain systems, buildings, sewers, parks and most notably, Belmont’s deteriorating streets, Fil said.
In 2012, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission graded Belmont streets at a 57, one of the lowest throughout the Bay Area.
“Because major repairs cost five to 10 times more than routine maintenance, these streets are at an especially critical stage. Roadways with pavement condition index scores of 50 to 59 are deemed ‘at-risk’ ... these roads requires major rehabilitation or reconstruction,” according to the MTC.
Other Bay Area cities with poor quality street conditions have successfully financed repairs through ballot measures, according to the MTC.
“Most cities’ pavement maintenance needs have far outstripped available funds for many years. ... But we’ve also seen that big improvements are possible if local voters decide streets and roads are an important civic priority,” according to the MTC.
Depending on the results of the poll, Belmont could benefit from following suit by asking residents to contribute to repairing their city, Fil said.
“Regrettably, we don’t have the tax base to do this on our own, so that’s why we need the assistance of the voters in this regard. ... I expect the [pollster] results will indicate that there’s some interest,” Fil said.
At the behest of the council last night, an ad hoc advisory committee comprised of councilmen Stone and Eric Reed, two finance commissioners, the city treasurer, the city manager and other staff was created to oversee the polling process. If there appears to be clear public support after the survey is conducted and analysed, the council will consider presenting voters with a ballot measure in the upcoming June or November elections.
In other business, the council also voted to enter into an agreement with Crystal Springs Uplands School to conduct environmental review of its proposed Belmont campus.