Roads in unincorporated areas of SLO County will receive a larger chunk of discretionary funds from the county than ever, potentially at the expense of other needs, after the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Feb. 21 to elevate road maintenance to a top budget priority.
Road maintenance now sits just below state and federal mandates, debt payments, and public safety on the county’s priority list. In short, it means that of the $6 million projected to be available as discretionary funds in 2017-2018 (which is 1 percent of the county’s total budget), road maintenance will be one of the first areas to receive allocations.
“I really believe that our constituents want our infrastructure maintained. It’s deteriorating,” said 5th District Supervisor Debbie Arnold, who has pushed for the move unsuccessfully in past budget talks.
Arnold’s proposal was strongly opposed by supervisors Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson. Hill called it “unwise” for the board to lock-in roads as a budget priority over other needs like homelessness and drug addiction, arguing investments in those issues yielded the highest returns.
“I’m not going to put potholes before poor people,” Hill said. “If you look at the social costs of homelessness on our social services, on our medical and hospital services, on our jail, on our police, you just could not make a case that any other spending could reduce social costs [as much].”
Supervisors John Peschong and Lynn Compton voted in favor of the move.
“The No. 1 complaint I get in my district is about the roads,” Compton said.
County Administrative Officer Dan Buckshi told New Times that he would not know the precise trade-offs of the board’s decision until May, when the budget is crafted
“In any given year, we usually have two to three times the amount of requests compared to what we have money to fund,” Buckshi said. “It’s not always ‘either/or,’ but if push came to shove and it was down to two [requests for funds], then it’s clear the board signaled roads maintenance would be a priority.”
The county’s additional spending for roads is likely to be minute compared to the $25 million that Measure J, the proposed half-percent local sales tax that was defeated in November, would’ve provided annually for transportation infrastructure. Buckshi pointed out the board could decide to continue shaking up the budget to open up more funds.
“The board could always provide direction to change certain things,” he said.