Support from St. Francis for street improvement district legislation

St. Francis City Councilmember Steve Kane Feb. 27 attended a League of Minnesota Cities event at the State Capitol to voice his support for legislation that he believes could save cities a lot of money on street repairs.

The legislation is patterned after the existing sidewalk improvement districts and would allow cities to earmark a certain portion of the taxes it collects specifically for street maintenance. It essentially sets up a separate line item in the budget so that those funds aren’t simply absorbed into the rest of the general fund to potentially be spent on something else.

“Right now, it all [tax dollars] goes into the general fund,” explained Kane. That means that if an unexpected expense comes up, that expense could be paid for with general fund dollars that are then not available for work on city streets.

“In tough years, we’ve had to cancel road maintenance projects. The problem is that by putting street maintenance off, you can end up having to rebuild a road much sooner.”

A standard road has a life expectancy of 25 to 30 years with normal maintenance. However, if a road is maintained more regularly and at a higher standard, that life can be extended up to 40 or 50 years.

“For every $1 spent on maintenance you save $7 in repairs,” added Kane.

Building up a fund strictly for street improvements could also help reduce the need to collect large assessments if a significant street problem comes up.

If the legislation authorizing street improvement districts passes, it will not mean a new tax, said Kane. “You would be getting taxed for street improvements anyway. This is not a new tax; it would just allow us to earmark it in the budget.”

When asked whether the legislation carries any disadvantages with it, Kane said there is one that would affect non-profit organizations. The legislation would allow cities to also tax non-profit groups for street maintenance, based on the philosophy that everyone who uses the streets in that area should help pay for them.

The municipal street improvement district legislation is currently in discussion at the state legislature, which is expected to vote on it sometime this year.