Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Tuesday, Aug. 9 @ 3:34 p.m.

Supes Debate How To Tackle Much-Needed Repairs on Network of Non-Maintained County Roads

District 2 Supervisor Valerie Starkey used Darby Street as an example of a non-maintained county road that needs repairs. | Google Maps

A proposal to set aside $50,000 for repairs to roads not maintained by the county turned into a debate about how to prioritize such projects and whether there’s enough staff to handle the extra work load.

Supervisors Valerie Starkey and Susan Masten on Tuesday invited their colleagues to tour Darby Street in the Bertsch-Ocean View area, stating the neighborhood suffers from drainage issues, flooding and narrow streets that impede access to homes for emergency vehicles.

“If you travel down Darby Street, you’re going to sink after a rain,” Starkey told her colleagues, adding that she spoke with county roads staff on whether there’s a criteria necessary for prioritizing projects. “You’re going to find that it is nearly impossible to pass. While this isn’t a permanent solution by any means, it will definitely improve that ability for fire personnel and what not to get down those roads in the event of an emergency.”

District 4 Supervisor Gerry Hemmingsen said he was reluctant to commit $50,000 without a comprehensive plan on how those dollars would be spent. His colleague, District 3 representative Chris Howard, pointed out that he hasn’t seen a basic inventory of the paper streets, easements and rights of way that aren’t maintained by the county since he’s been supervisor.

“In order to make some sound discussions, especially if we’re going to invest in this infrastructure that we have not legitimately invested in that I’m aware of, we really need everything in front of us,” Howard told his colleagues. “And how do you prioritize where that investment occurs?”

Starkey and Masten agreed to work with staff to come up with a potential plan or system of prioritizing such projects. District 1 Supervisor Darrin Short was absent.

Community Development Director Heidi Kunstal suggested staff reach out to those that provide garbage pickup, mail delivery, ambulance services and other first responders and use their input to create a priority list. Once they’ve created that list, Kunstal said, staff and supervisors can “do comparisons.”

The roads Starkey and Masten seek to repair are public easements created when the county’s older subdivisions were established. Some of those paper streets are in areas that can’t be developed such as wetlands, Kunstal told supervisors.

The county does have an inventory of those roads, but staff will have to figure out which ones are developed and which have environmental issues that precludes development, she told the Wild Rivers Outpost.

On Tuesday, Hemmingsen put the dilemma more succinctly:

“There may be roads out there that have no residences on them at all,” he said, “so why would we fix a road where there are no residences?”

According to Starkey, for the past two years, the county budget has had a line item earmarking $50,000 for repairs on roads that aren’t maintained by the county. That line item has recently been removed from the budget. Starkey said she believed former County Administrative Officer Jay Sarina had placed that line item in the budget at the request of former supervisor, Bob Berkowitz, and it “just kind of sat there.”

Starkey said she recently proposed using that $50,000, but there was confusion on how the county could spend those dollars.

Masten, who was appointed to the Board following Berkowitz’s death in March and is seeking to be elected to the seat in November, said she has received complaints from her constituents, particularly in the Bertsch Tract. After walking that area, she said, it was “quite obvious” that several roads have severe need.

“There’s a huge drainage issue in the Bertsch Tract area that needs to be addressed and that causes a lot of the issues we’re facing,” she said, earlier saying there were lakes in the road. “I do believe we need to be looking for funds for an assessment that needs to be done in that particular area. There’s a lot of flooding in yards in that area and it’s a contributing factor to the roads’ conditions.”

According to Hemmingsen, Berkowitz had proposed setting aside $5,000 per supervisor for each to tackle projects in their specific district. But no one had a plan for spending those dollars, Hemmingsen told his colleagues Tuesday.

“Then it just became a $25,000 amount that was put in there per year and they did that for two years,” he said, arguing unless there was a plan, he didn’t see a reason to set aside that $50,000.

According to Kunstal, repairs to unmaintained county roads can’t be paid for through funding set aside for the county Roads Division. The Roads Division is funded to do repairs on the network of county maintained roads, she said.

For Howard, making repairs to a road the county doesn’t maintain to improve access for emergency responders takes precedent, though he didn’t want to take a “band-aid” approach to the problem. The county could use emergency response access as a reason to commit general fund dollars toward those streets, he said. A list would make this task easier.

However, Howard also noted that the county’s Roads Division, which would likely be making those repairs, is stretched thin.

“I like Supervisor Starkey’s idea — if it really truly is an emergency piece, that would rise to the top of the list,” he said. “We could commit $50,000 to go out there and try to do the best we can. If that’s all we can put toward it. But I think having this discussion on a broader platform could be really useful if staff’s willing to do so.”

In addition to compiling a more up to date priority list of non-maintained county roads that need repairs, staff agreed to research how to go about returning paper streets that can’t be developed to the property owners.


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