Richmond officials accused of breaking promise to voters by using road repair tax to balance budget


Richmond city officials have been accused of breaking a promise to voters by proposing to use proceeds from a half-cent sales tax that was initially meant to fund longterm road repair and maintenance to instead balance the city’s budget.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, City Manager Bill Lindsay said the city needs to tap proceeds from Measure U, which passed in November, to help close a $9 million deficit without layoffs or service cuts. Lindsay identified a number of one-time funding sources that could raise money for road repair, but added earlier proposals of using a portion of Measure U proceeds to secure a bond for a longterm streets plan was no longer viable. That’s because the city recently received a credit downgrade from Moody’s Investor Services.

“We’re not recommending any additional debt for any reason,” Lindsay said.

Measure U, which is expected to bring in about $8 million in revenue this year, was initially intended to appease residents’ calls for better roadways. The council, however, pitched the measure as a general tax in order to avoid the needed two-third voters approval for a specific purpose tax. A general tax, however, meant proceeds could be shifted to other city services in the general fund like youth programs and public safety.

In an attempt to ensure Richmond roadway’s would benefit from Measure U, City Council in December voted to use half of proceeds, or roughly $3,75 million annually, for road repair. At the time, Councilmember Jael Myrick said the vote was a commitment to voters that made clear that Measure U revenue would be spent as intended.

This week, however, Myrick reluctantly changed his tune, saying the city’s dire financial situation must be addressed. In a statement in the Contra Costa Times, Myrick said he wants to keep council’s commitments on road repair but added “our first priority is balancing the budget and getting our bond rating where it needs to be.”

“It’s frustrating that this puts us in a position where the city’s credibility is on the line,” Myrick added.

Councilmembers Nat Bates, Vinay Pimple and Gayle McLaughlin also expressed concern about funding for road repair.

“The cost of repairing streets escalates dramatically when it is postponed,” Pimple said in an opinion piece in Radio Free Richmond, where he criticized Lindsay’s recent handling of budget decisions. “For example, the cost of repairing streets in very poor condition is twice that of streets in poor condition, which in turn is twice the cost of repairing streets in fair condition. Thus, we will have to make much bigger cuts in services if we postpone these repairs.”

Bates had much harsher words for city officials.

“We made a commitment to the taxpayers…you can’t deceive the public and lie to them,” Bates said. “It’s a lack of integrity.”

Mayor Tom Butt was far less critical, saying in his e-forum he was pleased that the city put together a “balanced $144,881,043 budget proposal with a cash reserve of $11.9 million, which is nearly $1.9 million above the minimum amount required per the City Council’s reserve policy.”

City Council must adopt the budget by month’s end, so expect more discussion on the issues in coming meetings.

For more details on the proposed budget, we encourage our readers to check out the Times report on the issue.