February 14, 2008 in City

Verner seeks emergency funds to fix pothole-riddled streets

By The Spokesman-Review
Dan Pelle photo

FILE/The Spokesman-Review
(Full-size photo)

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner plans to tap emergency reserves to improve streets riddled with potholes after intense winter storms.

Verner said Wednesday she will ask the City Council to transfer $500,000 to the street department.

“We always have freeze and thaw. We always have potholes,” she said. “But this winter was so severe we have more than our usual number of potholes.”

Most council members said they support the move.

“It’s either that or let our citizens spend a few hundred dollars in alignments,” Councilman Bob Apple said.

Officials said the extra money would be a start but not a long-term solution to street maintenance problems. The allocation would boost this year’s maintenance paving budget to $5.5 million. City streets are getting worse each year, and it would take another $7 million annually to stop that trend and begin to improve their condition, Public Works Director Dave Mandyke said.

So far this year the city has filled about 350 potholes that were 3 inches or deeper, said Andy Schenk, street department operations engineer. By this time in 2007 the number was only 65.

City officials have been working for years to build the emergency reserve fund to equal 10 percent of the general fund, in part to earn better bond ratings. They met that goal last year.

Chief Financial Officer Gavin Cooley said he believes moving the money won’t hurt those ratings.

Verner and council members said they don’t yet have a plan to replenish the reserve.

Councilman Michael Allen said he agrees that poor street conditions caused by harsh weather constitute an emergency.

“It’s becoming a public safety issue. Emergency reserves are put there for this type of purpose,” Allen said. “I don’t want to drive a lunar vehicle to get to work.”

Verner also has ordered that the street department shift personnel to filling potholes. Normally four city workers fill potholes after thaws. That’s been increased to 14. The additional workers otherwise would repair snow removal equipment and prepare for more storms, Mandyke said.

Verner said she will work with the council to increase the street maintenance budget for 2009. That may require higher taxes or fees, she said.

“We need to approach the 2009 budget with a real plan for real street maintenance,” Verner said.

“I drove up Hamilton last night and it was like an obstacle course,” French said. “I can’t remember a time in recent history where the streets have been this bad.”

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