Street fees move ahead

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City Council looks at adding charges to Denton utility bills

The Denton City Council took its first in-depth look at street maintenance fees last week and, while concerned about the effect on the community, they agreed to pursue the option as a way to pay for roadway repairs.

City staff researched street maintenance fees assessed in Austin, Bryan and Corpus Christi. They proposed during a workshop session Tuesday night that Denton set up its assessments similar to those in Corpus Christi, which charges its fees based on the estimated amount of trips a household makes each day. Similar measurements would be set up for apartment dwellers and places of business.

Although the program would take between one and two years to research and launch, once in place, homeowners could see about $5 per month added to their utility bills.

Apartment dwellers would pay a little less and business owners would pay more, depending on the type of business. For example, a big-box store might pay $4,000 per month, but a medical office about $90 per month, the staff said.

Council member James King was concerned about the effect that would have on the business community, pointing out that a pharmacy, for example, would pay $6,000 each year for street fees. He asked whether the fees would eliminate the city’s current need to issue millions in bonds to rebuild its failed streets.

The fees, once in place, are expected to raise about $8 million annually to help maintain streets, which should help keep more from failing.

But Jim Coulter, the city’s director of water utilities, said that the backlog of work to be done on failed streets is too much — about $100 million — for the city to be able to stop issuing bonds for now.

Sobering reports from consultants in 2010 and 2011 told the council what many residents have long complained about: Many city streets have failed or are failing. Allowing a street to fail, ultimately makes its repair costlier to the city. Coulter told the council that for every $2 million the city can spend in street overlays, the city can save $8 million to $10 million over the long term.

The council agreed to pursue the option of charging street maintenance fees, suggesting that it be implemented gradually.

The city would have to hire a new employee to set up the program, since there are few consultants available to help with the work, Coulter said.

Last year, residents approved a $20.4 million bond package to begin tackling the backlog. The city plans to issue about $4 million from that package annually over the next five years to rebuild some of the 990 street segments that need work.

The City Council on Tuesday began appointing residents to another citizen bond advisory committee, which will set the priorities for a bond election in November 2014.

While most of the priorities will come from the committee, the council has included three items it wants to see on the ballot: rebuilding two fire stations, $3 million for street reconstruction and the repair of Hinkle Drive.

The street was damaged in the April 2007 flash floods, and requires more than $1 million in drainage work along with road reconstruction.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.


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