FORT BRAGG, 7/2/23 — On Monday, the Fort Bragg City Council voted 5-0 to put the issue of renewing its half-cent sales tax on the Nov. 7 ballot. The sales tax funds road repairs throughout the city. The council will have one more chance to look at the plan before it goes to county elections when staff returns the ordinance, which will then be voted on. The council agreed to the details, but the vote will be needed for the action to be final.
Current road repairs are funded by an identical tax passed nearly a decade ago, which expires on Dec. 31, 2024. The tax passed for the first time nearly 20 years ago. The council decided to give itself the possibility of making two tries to pass a tax that needs a two-thirds majority, which can be a heavy lift. That’s also a reason to eschew the “sunset” clause, meaning the tax will be permanent unless rescinded in the future. In this version of the tax language, the city also will be able to repair storm sewers, important to draining streets during heavy rains.
The city opened bids for this fiscal year’s roadwork on Thursday, with the low bidder Santa Rosa-based Argonaut Constructors. “We are still checking all documents for responsiveness,” said Chantell O’Neal, the city’s assistant director of engineering. “Staff will bring a recommendation for award to the July 10 council meeting.”
Fort Bragg Mayor Bernie Norvell and City Councilmember Lindy Peters said at Monday’s meeting that the new sales tax was necessary to maintain the streets. Nobody expressed opposition at the two meetings where the tax was discussed.
“Just for clarification, the first time around one of the reasons the council wanted a sunset was it was seen as an easier sell,” Peters said.
“It was thought it would be easier to get the voters to pass it if you told them it was going to sunset. But we didn’t anticipate the rise of costs and the significant damage with storms that are occurring recently. We probably shouldn’t have just had it with the sunset. But that’s the way it was,” Peters explained.
Street repair costs have shot up, and practices have changed over the past 20 years. Back then, the city did its own paving, Norvell said.
As of December 2022, this tax has provided $9,627,000 in revenue to be used for the sole purpose of repairing, maintaining and reconstructing city streets since its renewal in 2014, according to the staff report. In the last five years, the city has been able to rehabilitate more than 15 residential street segments, four commercial street segments, and nine alleys.
Putting this measure on the ballot is considered a special election, which costs approximately $15,000-$20,000 according to county election officials, despite the fact that the date is a county-wide election. Why is the sales tax considered a special election during a general election?
“Because the city does not have any `elected terms’ ending, we would not ordinarily have anything on the ballot,” O’Neal explained.
If the tax is not extended, the city will no longer receive these funds after the existing tax sunsets. The tax also qualifies Fort Bragg as a “Self-Help City” that makes it eligible for funds from the Road Maintenance and Rehabilitation Account (RMRA) state sales tax. RMRA has reimbursed the city $888,000 since 2017, employed towards expenses directly associated with large street rehabilitation projects.
That money would also be lost if the tax did not exist.
If the tax were to fail in November or the city decided to defer before it was submitted, the city could try again next year.
“If the voters choose not to support this measure, we would then be able to bring it back either in March of 2024, or at the regular general election in 2024,” said O’Neal. “So it would give us additional time and opportunity to educate the public, maybe make some modifications to the ballot language and then bring it to the voters a second time.” City and state documents show the monies spent on the tax over the years let the city spend less in the long run by avoiding severe deterioration and emergency repairs.
A report by NCE Engineering says if the city continues the current streets program, it will hit a catch-up point where regular preventative maintenance should handle most issues.
This year’s street repair projects begin on South Harold, South Street, Boatyard Drive and Chestnut Street. Some of the work will be repaving but some will be restriping. Summer crews will head north to finish up working on North Franklin Street and Stewart Street. The work is done this way for efficiency, and because the city can’t have crews working on North Franklin Street at the same time as Caltrans is working on the Pudding Creek Bridge.
Previous coverage here: