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SQUEEZING MILEAGE FROM ROAD BONDS

City leaders likely will ask residents to pay a portion of their city property taxes a little longer so they don't have to pay a lot more later to fix up city streets.

Mayor George Stewart and the City Council are considering asking voters to approve refinancing two road bonds that were approved in 1987 and 1989. The city bonded for $8 million in those years to finance resurfacing of collector and arterial streets. The bonds are scheduled to be retired in 1998 and 2002.By refinancing the two road bonds, however, the city would receive almost $6 million to finance resurfacing of residential streets. Residents would not see an increase in property taxes; they'd just have to pay that portion of their taxes for another 10 years. About 20 percent of the city portion of each resident's property tax bill goes to repaying the bonds.

"I just don't see when we're going to save the $5 million we need to get this done," Stewart said.

The city hasn't done any resurfacing work on residential streets for several years. City road crews devote most of their time to patching and filling pot holes.

"It's been a great while since we've done any significant work on city streets," public works director Merrill Bingham said. "That's an area that's been underfunded for a long time."

"You drive somewhere and you hate to admit that these are our residential streets," Stewart said.

City officials say road needs are underfunded by about $500,000 a year. If road funding continues at the current pace, some residents will wait another 30 years before the street in front of their homes is replaced.

"You're going to reach a point in time where you will have to do it because the streets will become intolerable," Bingham said.

That point is close, Bingham said. And according to research done by traffic engineer Nick Jones, the condition of pavement drops from fair to poor very rapidly after 12 years. More importantly, the cost of replacing pavement after 12 years increases about five times.

"It's a need that's not going to go away and will only get worse," Bing-ham said. "So the trick is to get caught up and get on a maintenance schedule that gives you the most bang for the buck."

If the city refinances the bond, all city streets will be resurfaced during a two- to three-year timetable. Once resurfaced, the city will spend its road money on a scheduled maintenance program. Bingham said Utah's fluctuating temperatures and moisture amounts dictate a regular street maintenance program.

"We live in a climate cycle that is really hard on roads," he said.

Council members will discuss the refinancing proposal during their study session May 9 and likely will determine whether and when to place the issue on the ballot. City officials believe the issue will not be controversial once residents recognize the potential cost of delaying the road projects. If the refinancing is approved, road resurfacing could begin next spring.