Sunday, May 28, 2017
St. Johns County lags on projects because it won't collect impact fees upfront
Where is the Inspector General? (We have none.). Where is the Ombudsman? (We have none.) Where is the Grand Jury investigating corruption? Developer-driven St. Augustine and St. Johns County, Florida are a veritable swamp of developer-directed doofuses, a Confederacy of Dunces. Good article by Jake Martin -- where is the FBI and federal grand jury going on its multi-year investigation of white collar crime and corruption, starting with County Administrator MICHAEL DAVID WANCHICK, County Attorney PATRICK FRANCIS McCORMICK, Medical Examiner Dr. PREDRAG BULIC, M.D., State's Attorney RALPH JOSEPH LARIZZA and Sheriff DAVID BERNARD SHOAR f/k/a "HOAR?"
Posted May 28, 2017 12:02 am
By JAKE MARTIN firstname.lastname@example.org
Meeting St. Johns County’s transportation needs looking like a long road
Making St. Johns County’s transportation plans a reality is a process that has been hindered in recent years by an ongoing lack of money to maintain what’s already here, much less to meet the demands of continued growth.
The public works department, among other things, is responsible for the planning, construction and upkeep of the county’s roads and related infrastructure. Most of its revenues for these programs and services come from ad valorem taxes and gas taxes. Other revenues from sources like impact fees, application fees and interest are much smaller and almost always committed to certain projects or zones.
Neal Shinkre, public works director, told The Record on Thursday that the transportation-end of his department is anticipating just under $31.8 million in revenues for 2018. Meanwhile, its operational expenditures, which include salaries and numerous programs and services related to maintenance of existing roads and infrastructure, are expected to be around $33.5 million.
Shinkre said he’s typically balanced out the difference with his reserves. However, county commissioners gave direction to staff this year to come up with a version of next year’s budget that does not rely on drawing down from reserves.
Reductions are proposed for infrastructure improvements and capital maintenance projects such as replacing old drainage or stormwater pipes, sidewalks and culverts, but Shinkre said all those cuts are just operational, never mind capital.
“I don’t have any money, any money in my transportation fund, meaning zero, to do transportation projects,” he said. “Zero. I can’t do any projects.”
He said while it’s true many maintenance projects are capital-intensive, they only keep an existing road or piece of infrastructure up to its current standards. They do nothing to address demands of growth and more people using the roads and infrastructure.
Shinkre said there’s a list of about $90 million worth of roadway projects that would enhance safety and increase capacity, including improvements to sections of Wildwood Drive, Roberts Road, King’s Estate Road and Old Moultrie Road. And that’s just looking ahead five years. The need will easily top $150 million over 10 years, he added.
“These are roads that have been on our map a long time and that need upgrades to meet the current traffic conditions and meet our standards for levels of service,” he said. “I don’t have money for those.”
What’s being done?
Shinkre said the only types of capital projects he can do come mostly from impact fees, which the county collects from housing and commercial developers. He said the county’s Transportation Trust Fund, on average, gets $4-$5 million a year from those fees but the county also has annual bond commitments totaling $1.5 million (for projects in the northwest and northeast) that come out of that pot.
There are just $3.1 million in impact fee-funded projects planned for next year.
Shinkre said those projects include improvements to C.R. 210 from Interstate 95 to U.S. 1 for $961,000, four-laning of Longleaf Pine Parkway from Roberts Road to Oxford Estates for $900,000, and capacity-based maintenance on the C.R. 208 Town Branch Bridge for $600,000. There are some smaller maintenance and drainage projects funded by impact fees elsewhere.
“I can only collect for growth where it occurs and put projects where that growth is headed,” he said.
Officials have said the results of an impact fee study will be presented to the board during the budget process for 2018 and that the commission could revisit its options at that time. The county’s impact fees were last adjusted in 2011, however, annual adjustments (upward) have been made based on a cost index.
Other road projects are done largely through developers’ commitments, although those projects are at the whim of the developers and where they are in terms of construction on their properties. Shinkre said there were four or five projects from this year that are going to carry over to the next year, including some major improvements to Race Track Road and Woodlawn Road. Shearwater will also be contributing, over time, toward a four-lane expansion of C.R. 210 west of Cimarrone Boulevard to the C.R. 210/Greenbriar Road junction. Most of these projects, however, will still require the county to come up with millions of dollars to bring to fruition.
While FDOT is mainly concerned with state roads, it does offer some criteria-dependent help on local roads.
Shinkre said the intersection of Wildwood Drive and U.S. 1 will get about $1 million in state assistance within the next 18 months, but only to address safety concerns due to some crashes that have been happening there. FDOT is also expected to pitch in on shoulder widening of C.R. 13 from C.R. 208 to S.R. 16, but those funds aren’t anticipated till around 2020. He said the county is working with FDOT on the intersection of Race Track Road and C.R. 13, but added that’s “absolutely not a funded project yet.”
The county next year will also get a $750,000 grant, requiring no local match, from the Florida Department of Transportation for a multi-use path for the St. Johns River to Sea Loop Trail.
Strapped for cash
Pavement management will likely continue to receive less than half of the estimated $14 million that’s needed on an annual basis to keep the county’s roads up to standard.
Shinkre said he is recommending just $6 million for the program next year in order to stay within the bounds of expected revenues. He said pavement management is currently in a $50 million hole that’s only going to get deeper with time if it’s not addressed.
In a near-perfect world, he said he could invest just $2 a square yard to maximize the life of a roadway before there’s a critical need, although a road could also be brought back up to par for $4 a square yard, at least for some time. But $6 a square yard is the end of the line.
“I don’t want to wait [until] $6, [until] the road is completely dead and I have to reconstruct the entire roadway,” he said.
The picture was already bleak four or five years ago when Shinkre first arrived at the $14 million-a-year figure. He said maybe that figure could be up to $16 million a year by now, adding he’s trying to get a new study done.
Shinkre has told the board he needs about $10.8 million a year for deferred maintenance, including $8 million for pavement management and $1.5 million for drainage infrastructure, to at least cover the annual deficit for those areas.
“Identifying revenue sources is very critical for us,” he said. “We have really skinned the cat as much as we can, and to the bone, right now.”
Shinkre said the county used to maximize on grants, but that’s out the window given the current circumstances.
“Grants are great because they’re a way of getting 50 cents or 75 cents to a dollar for a project where we contribute half the money, or less,” he said. “Well, I don’t have half that money to contribute.”
He said the county stands to receive $11.5-$12 million in hazard mitigation grant funding for Hurricane Matthew, with the state and feds paying a 75 percent share, within the next 6-10 months. He said the funding is for the county, school district, sheriff’s office, St. Augustine and St. Augustine Beach, but that his department would probably account for at least half of those funds.
Shinkre said he doesn’t know what projects will be going where as of yet, but there’s also the problem of where the county’s anticipated $1.8 million share is going to come from.
“I can always use my reserves,” he said. “But is that the way to get projects done?” (To those who would say “not for long,” Shinkre would one-up you and say “long” has already occurred.)
He said Transportation Trust Fund reserves are down to about $12 million, but less when factoring in monies that need to be set aside for bond commitments and 3-6 months of operating expenses. The bottom line, he said, is $12 million just isn’t a whole lot when it comes to roads and infrastructure.
“I can suck up that $12 million in one project,” he said.
If you can't do projects, stop building unwanted and unneeded stuff that requires projects. Working off the "can't put ten gallons of sewage in a five gallon bucket model" this should be easy enough to see even for those without an engineering degree.
Like the port -a - potty, build it and they will come!
The County Government, Elected and non-elected made a decision to not collect the Impact fees UPFRONT ! So now comes all the desperate stories of "we have no money" to do what should be getting done. Who is to blame ? All the County Commissioners PAST and PRESENT ! What do all the County Commissioners, PAST and PRESENT, who have failed the Residents of St Johns County have in common ......... an ..............R ..................... after their name ! The Elected County Commissioners past and present, NEVER HAVE PUT THE RESIDENTS FIRST !
But those past and present R County Commissioners, sure have taken EXCELLENT CARE OF THE NORTH FLORIDA DEVELOPERS !! Well maybe one day the Resident Voters of St Johns County will actually look and read about a Candidate before just checking the box with the candidate who has an R next to his or her name. Simply just R voting is why this County is SHORT A Lot Of Funds (money) and can NOT do projects it should be DOING !