County Seeks Input From Nipomo Residents on Willow Road Exchange

The San Luis Obispo County Department of Public Works is seeking input from Nipomo residents on the Willow Road exchange project. Several county representatives have begun a series of meetings to educate the community on the project and the fact that there is about a 12 million dollar shortfall on funding. The Times Press Recorder reports:

Nipomo Mesa residents will get a chance to tell county officials how they feel about paying a quarter of the cost for the Willow Road interchange at a community workshop next month.

Comments received at the workshop will be combined with data developed by the County Public Works Department and incorporated into a report to the Board of Supervisors sometime this summer.

But regardless of what funding mechanism is recommended — or eventually adopted by supervisors — it appears Nipomo residents will ultimately be responsible for paying what is currently estimated at $12 million, according to a report given to Nipomo Community Services District.

County officials noted that $12 million deficit could grow by the time construction begins — projected for 2010 — as costs increase for materials, labor and meeting new regulations.

The total cost is currently pegged at $42 million, almost four times the initial 1990 estimate of $12 million — the amount of the funding shortfall Nipomo residents are now expected to cover.

“That’s a sizable gap,” Dave Flynn, deputy director of Public Works, told NCSD directors about the $12 million shortfall.

Although the Board of Supervisors has authorized a $6 million loan to help close that gap, “The county’s $6 million must be repaid somehow,” Flynn said.

Phase one of the project is already funded, and construction is iminent:

Planned since the 1980s, phase two is now wending its way through the Caltrans approval process.

Phase one to realign and extend Willow Road from Pomeroy Road to Hetrick Avenue is already funded. Plans are being finalized, trees are being removed, a survey of endangered Pismo clarkia plant habitat will begin in May and construction could start in August.

It is phase two that is not completely funded.  Part of this PR offensive is actually to prepare the public for the county’s proposed tax increase to make up the $12 million shortfall for funding.  The bottom line is that the county cannot afford to pay for the entire project.  Therefore, they are looking to local residents to pay for the remainder of the project, despite the fact this is the first time the county has looked to a local community to fund their own freeway interchange.  All other interchanges in the county were funded in otherways, not by local residents.  Some options for Willow Road include:

Will Clemens, who serves as chief financial officer for Public Works, told directors a number of methods could be used to raise the $12 million for phase two, including an assessment district, an ad valorem tax, a parcel tax or road improvement fees.

“The residents of Nipomo will pay back all of the $12 million, one way or another,” Clemens said.

Here’s a brief overview of those options:

n Assessment district — The district would be defined by the special benefit afforded properties by the Willow Road project, with the benefit and assessment formula determined by an engineer’s report.

It would require approval by 50 percent of the property owners and would pay back bonds on an expected 30-year term.

n Ad valorem tax — The existing property tax rate would increase by 0.05 percent, or $50 per $100,000 of assessed valuation. It would require approval by a two-thirds vote as mandated by Proposition 218 and would also have a 30-year term.

n Parcel tax — A tax rate for each parcel would be created based on land use. It would also require a two-thirds vote, mandated by Prop. 218, and would have a 30-year term.

n Road improvement fees — Charged on all new developments to offset their impacts, the fees could be increased to pay for all or half the $12 million.

Those fees have already put $10 million into the existing funding, and another $2 million is expected from future development.

“One twist is the federal economic stimulus package everyone is anticipating,” Clemens said, noting the county might receive $15 million, which could be applied to phase one and free up funding for phase two.

Director Ed Eby expressed doubt that approval could be obtained from two-thirds of voters and urged the county to “quit wasting time,” hold the election and “move on to plan B.”

But Flynn said there have been a number of successful two-thirds votes in the county.

“It really becomes, at the community level, do you want this project to move forward or not?” he said. “That’s really what it comes down to.”

If you are interested in giving your input to the count, plan to attend the upcoming workshop:

TO ATTEND THE WORKSHOP:

— A community workshop on funding the Willow Road interchange is currently set for 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19, at Nipomo High School.

— Residents and property owners will hear about funding options and will be able to provide input on the various methods.

— For more information, contact the San Luis Obispo County Department of Public Works at 781-5252.

If you want taxation with representation, make certain to attend the workshop.

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