Will Ennis residents pay to save their streets?

Something has to be done about the awful condition of Ennis’ streets, but there’s not enough money in the town’s road-repair budget to make that happen, according to public works director Kelly Elser.

“If we don’t start to repair and maintain things, all our roads will be gravel in a few more years,” Elser told the town commissioners at last Thursday’s meeting. Not only will all the asphalt be worn away, the streets will undoubtedly be even rougher and more full of potholes than they are now, he said.

“You have to chip seal a road about every 10 years at the most, but we haven’t sealed one in 30 years,” Elser said.

One way to raise the money and start repairing the rapidly deteriorating streets is to create a street maintenance district Elser said. If Ennis residents would agree to this kind of property assessment, such a district could raise tens of thousands of dollars a year to maintain the town’s roads, both paved and gravel, he said.

“It would be a kind of tax on (land) parcel owners, but there are fair ways to figure it out,” Elser said.

No one knows exactly how much money the town needs to repair and maintain its streets, but the sooner repair work can begin, the less it will cost in the long run, Elser said.

Paving and repair estimates are not yet available because all the paving companies the town has asked for cost estimates “are just really busy right now so they’re not getting back to us,” Ennis Mayor Becky Vujovich told the commission.

A street maintenance district can be created on a small or large scale within the town limits, and the commission can decide exactly how to propose assessing how much each landowner would be assessed, including these options:

  • by property value
  • by size of lots
  • per parcel of land

 

Discussing the cost

It costs about five times as much to rebuild roads that are beyond repair than it would to begin repair work immediately to save what can be salvaged,

She recommended publicizing the idea of a street maintenance district as soon as possible so residents can start comparing the costs and benefits and discussing the idea with other community members.

“It’s going to be a long planning process, and we need to get started,” she urged her fellow council members.

“We want to do it as cheaply as possible,” she said. “We know that it will cost around 45 cents per square foot now, and if we wait … a rough estimate is … about five times that.”

At the commission’s June 12 meeting, Jeremiah Theys, a project manager for Great West Engineering, explained how a maintenance or improvement district works, and how the town has several options for creating one – including making it a “citywide district,” or limiting it to particular streets.

The latter option would only bring in money assessed to the property owners in those small areas, he said.

“A maintenance district means you can rebuild sections of streets with the money you collect,” Theys said. “Paving gravel roads is also considered maintenance as long as you don’t do a whole street, and up to 100 feet of a sidewalk” can be paid for out of district funds.

 

Public input required

The town council must identify the work to be done, and then “outline the boundary (of the maintenance district) and how it will be assessed. Then it goes out for public comment,” Theys explained.

“If 50 percent protest, by law, you can’t form a district. But if only 49 percent protest, you can. It’s a great avenue for creating additional funds to take care of your streets,” Theys said.

“We’re not just shooting from the hip here. We’ve been talking about this for a long time already,” Vujovich said.

A survey of every street in Ennis was done in 2007, showing that many of them were in immediate need of repair back then, Vujovich said. But nothing was done.

Because the damage is continuing, and will eventually affect every street, Theys said, his recommendation is to create a street maintenance district that encompasses the entire town.

“Then everybody would benefit and the assessment would be less per person,” he said.

At the end of their July 10 council meeting, Ennis commissioners agreed to keep collecting the information needed to present residents with a clear choice when the issue of creating a street maintenance district finally comes up for public comment.

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