Fix the Roads!

We have heard this repeated request for many years in Middletown and Council understands that citizens desire to increase our paving program and improve the quality of roads.   While Council had been hopeful that our year-over-year increasing city revenues would help make a bigger dent in the paving need, the impact of COVID has led Council to now ask for other options to consider making immediate improvements to our roads 

Before we can fully understand how to fix the problem, we need to understand where we are currently.    The City has a total of 621 total lane miles, which is more than many of our neighboring cities and creates a larger challenge in keeping up with needs city-wide. Additionally, like many of our neighboring cities, as an older community we face more aged and less well-constructed streets that require more expensive repairs. To help address paving needs, the condition of that pavement is evaluated biannually by a consulting firm who goes out and checks the quality of the paving, the surface, cracks, and underlayment.   They then publish a study of the condition and rank the pavement on a rating scale of “Very Poor/Failed” up to “Excellent/Very Good” which our Public Works team uses in prioritizing streets to be paved.  According to the 2017 rankings, our streets were rated:

2017 RatingDescriptionPavement Area/Land MilesPercent of Total Area
100-82Excellent/Very Good12921%
81-68Good8714%
67-50Fair14924%
49-35Poor14623%
34-0Very Poor/Failed11018%

So what does that mean from a budget standpoint?   When assessing a cost for paving it is done by a lane mile.   One lane mile is one mile of length of pavement, by one single lane width.   So your average mile of street has two lane miles per mile of length because it is two lanes wide by one mile long and accommodates one lane of traffic in each direction.  We also have large streets in the City that one mile of length is multiple lane miles of pavement because the roads have multiple lanes of traffic.   Each lane mile of paving costs somewhere between $125,000 and $250,000 depending on the road and its condition.   One estimate indicates that it will take $160 million worth of paving work to get us back to Good or Very Good Pavement.

The bad news is that we have a lot of work to do.  The good news is that we are focused on increasing paving money annually in the budget.   Our public works and utilities department also has been very diligent in securing grant funds from other agencies to assist in our paving needs. We regularly pursue and receive grants from Ohio Department of Transportation and Ohio Public Works Commission. 

But assuming a cost of $160 million to completely remedy the situation, we cannot accomplish our goal at one time with just grants and the budget we work with for the City.   So we must tighten our belts, pursue all the grants, work towards economic development and bringing new tax payers into the City, and must look at any and all additional sources of funding.

There are a few ways cities can generate the funds to pay for road repair. At a Council work session last night, staff presented some additional options for funding additional road work.  With a problem this size, there is no one magic solution.  Like all cities our size and age, we are going to have to consider all options.

Here are some of the options presented to council, in addition to budget tightening, grants and economic development plans:

1.         License Registration Fee:

For years, part of the fee you pay when you renew your license with the BMV has been $5.00 fee for the City.  These funds are used towards street improvements.  Traditionally, this fee has raised a total of $240,000 for the City.   In 2019, a law was passed allowing cities to increase that fee to $10.00.  Many local cities took this option to increase the fees.   Middletown has not yet increased the fee, but could choose to raise the fee and generate an additional $240,000 in funding annually.

2.         Street Light Assessment:

Each year, the City spends approximately $700,000 on the upkeep and operation costs of Street Lights.   We are also one of the only local cities that does not charge citizens some small fee for the street light operation.  This assessment could be done by household on utility bills in the amount less than $4.00 per house hold per month.  When this money is not being used to operate street lights, it can be dedicated to additional paving activities.

3.         Street Levy:

One additional option to consider is dedication of a levy to street improvements.    Currently, the City assesses 1.75% income tax.   1.5% is utilized to fund the day to day operations of the City.  0.25% of that amount is dedicated strictly to helping to pay for our public safety operations in the police and fire department.   By a vote of the taxpayers in the City, we could assess an additional 0.25% of income tax to dedicate strictly to paving needs.   Current Estimate is that this extra one quarter of one percent would raise an additional $3 million per year to dedicate to paving.  Council also discussed implementing this for a 10 year period so that it will expire at the end of that time. It is important to note that this option is only available if it is approved by the voters of the City.

We want to continue this discussion. I ask you to email with your thoughts and suggestions at susanc@cityofmiddletown.org and your council members nicolec@cityofmiddletown.org; joem@cityofmiddletown.org; talm@cityofmiddletown.org; monican@cityofmiddletown.org; amiv@cityofmiddletown.org.   On July 21 we will be discussing this matter at the City Council meeting to discuss how to best move forward.   We welcome your opinions as we work to solve this concern for all citizens.

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