The City of Santa Barbara has systematically underfunded infrastructure maintenance and repair costs for years, and two councilmen want to start a community discussion about how to address the problem.
Councilman Bendy White said they’re “sounding the alarm,” but it’s definitely not the first time.
A task force put together a report in 2008 saying that infrastructure maintenance is the fundamental responsibility of city government.
“Time is of the essence,” task force chairman Richard Jensen wrote in the cover letter.
That backlog was growing by about $700,000 every year, according to the report.
Task force members suggested the city put 10 percent of all General Fund money into infrastructure just off the top, consider a 0.5-percent sales tax increase for infrastructure needs and expanding partnerships with the private sector, and better prioritize General Fund infrastructure in the city budget.
“The city needs to clearly define the priority it gives to community organizations in the capital budget since it doesn’t have the resources to meet all the worthy infrastructure needs,” the report said.
White said the report was excellent but had horrible timing.
Councilman Randy Rowse, who brought up this issue with White, said the city needs to get input from neighborhood and business groups to find a solution. The ultimate goal is to find a strategy that has broad support, though there is already talk of increasing revenues to bridge the gap.
For now, the City Council decided to make an educational film about the city’s unfunded projects and infrastructure costs and wants to form a subcommittee to talk about the needs in more detail.
“We’ll take our Randy-Bendy show on the road,” Rowse said.
Scott Burns, who was on the 2008 task force, said people won’t be cheering on the council in this effort since it’s not very exciting, but it needs to be done.
Finance Director Bob Samario said the city has $368.5 million worth of unfunded infrastructure projects through fiscal year 2019, not counting any enterprise funds such as the airport or waterfront. Streets maintenance is the biggest chunk of that, with almost $217 million unfunded.
The council has budgeted an average of $2 million per year for streets maintenance over the past eight years and would have to triple it just to keep the current conditions, Samario said.
To keep the Pavement Condition Index at 63, which is considered “good” but below the state average, the council would have to start putting aside $6.7 million per year.
The more deferred maintenance is put off, the more it will cost in the long run as things deteriorate, Samario noted.
As the task force put it, “If the city fails to act decisively now, it will face a far greater burden in the future and potentially undermine the growth of the local economy and the value of the community’s homes and real estate.”
White and Rowse first presented their goals to the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce at the same meeting county Supervisor Peter Adam talked about his infrastructure ballot measure. It doesn’t change any taxes, but would force the board to reprioritize and fund enough maintenance to keep all county facilities at the current level or better.