Update: The Burdettes pay $174.08 per year, not per month, for road maintenance.
Private road upkeep draws public attention
Submitted for your approval: the Peterson Tract in June Lake, part of which includes a stretch of non-county roads that are maintained through a “Zone of Benefit.” Such zones aren’t unusual in Mono County, in fact, there are many of the small, locally-specific micro-agencies set up to administer property assessment revenue for snow removal and upkeep of neighborhood roads. What happens to a privately-held stretch of property when snow removal eats up most if not all of the fund and leaves little for repair and upkeep was the issue taken up by Mono County’s Board of Supervisors during its regular meeting Tuesday.
Unlike many ZOBs, which fall under County auspices, the Peterson Tract in west June Lake is private property. Still, as Public Works and Roads Director Jeff Walters explained to the Board, snow removal costs are usually responsible for the majority of the expenses associated with maintenance of these roads. “Little funding remains available for repair of the roads,” Walters said in the staff report. “As a result, most of the roads located in the Peterson Tract are in need of significant repair/reconstruction, which the Zone of Benefit is unable to provide due to insufficient funds.”
Walters said that during the past five years, snow removal costs have exceeded $27,000, particularly 2010-2011, when the bill came in at $35,000 due to the big snow year. “That’s meant a large hit to the fund every year,” he noted. “W have done some crack sealing in the past, but those are ‘band aids’ on necessary, significant roads. Crack sealing and patching, he said, is not a formal solution, meaning the road needs attention to drainage and surfacing, and in general need to be brought up to Caltrans specs.
Walters said an estimate of $60,000 for Silver Pines Drive is only a start, and won’t cover all of the roadwork. He said the ZOB’s current balance is $24,000, an amount that will be easily burned through should an average snow year actually happen this season. “There are a lot of things in the tract that are difficult to contend with … snow removal, amount of road needing attention; there arguably could be more money this summer for maintenance, if the weather doesn’t change much,” Walters added.
Funded by specially levied property assessments, the Peterson ZOB was created in 1992, prior to passage of Prop. 218. Boosting the assessment amount is where things start to get sticky, in that the homeowners in the area could be required to have a formal vote to levy an increase.
Passed in 1996, Prop. 218 was enacted to “protect taxpayers by limiting the methods by which local governments exact revenue from taxpayers without their consent,” requiring local governments take a vote of the affected property owners for any proposed new or increased assessment before it can be levied.
When the Peterson Tract ZOB was created, homeowners approved an assessment to cover costs, but the amount was mostly geared toward snow removal, not major repair and maintenance according to Garrett Higerd from Mono Public Works.
“It’s unusual in that this ZOB is set up to work on a private stretch of road,” County Counsel Marshall Rudolph observed. “There’s no legal problem, it can be set up as such; it’s just unusual.”
One option is for the County to take over the tract, and help cover the costs for environmental studies, drainage improvements and upgrades to Caltrans standards. Either way, the expenses present a conundrum for both parties. June Lake resident Ralph Obenberger said he doesn’t think the homeowners are quite up for paying the extra thousands of dollars each required to bring the roads up to snuff.
Dorothy Burdette, who resides in June Lake in the Peterson Tract, candidly told the Board her assessment is $174.08 a year. Higerd pointed out that there are different rates for property owners of as yet undeveloped lots.
“Seems like a pretty low rate, even for snow removal,” Hansen observed.
“People could pay two or three times that amount if they expect repairs to be done,” Hansen opined. “It seems screwed up, though, in that I don’t think anyone ever addressed any additional work much beyond snow removal.” Speaking as one homeowner, Burdette indicated she’d be amenable to pay more.
Stopping short of backing a County takeover of the tract, Supervisor Larry Johnston said he was “sympathetic” to the homeowners. “If they were County roads, they’d be done,” he said.
The entire Board backed allocating staff time to analyze the various scenarios including going through a full 218 process and an alternative that could mean getting consensus within the June Lake community to form a Home Owners Association, which would essentially augment the ZOB.
A joint County-Peterson Tract homeowner meeting is being planned for May.