Paso Robles streets to get overdue repairs

The city of Paso Robles will hire two full-time temporary employees to repair potholes, paint curbs and start a crack-sealing program on residential streets, the City Council decided last week.

It should be about 30 working days until the new hires are on board, Public Works Director Doug Monn said.

The additions, which are cheaper than hiring regular staff, are the council’s lifeline to the city’s street maintenance program, which has been nearly wiped out by the recession’s impact on revenue and a citywide hiring freeze. With today’s revenue limitations, repaving is not an option. There is just enough money coming in to patch potholes two to three days a month, according to the Public Works Department.

Such losses are illustrated by the many stretches of cracked asphalt, faded crosswalks and unclear lane markings on main thoroughfares and neighborhood roads throughout town.

The condition of city streets is one of the most-discussed issues in Paso Robles. For Paso Robles parent Amy Coletta, the heart of the issue is the dangers posed by shabby streets.

She advocated for a year and a half for the city to repaint a crosswalk at Creston and Rolling Hills roads that her children and neighbors use to walk to school. The city finally repainted the markings in August, but she said the wait was too long.

“You really could not even see the crosswalk at all. It just wasn’t well marked,” Coletta said. “Safety was my No. 1 concern.”

The city’s road fund dropped nearly 91 percent about two years ago — going from a $400,000 per year tax share to a mere $38,000 annual general fund expense, depending on the year. The change came in 2010, when the state decided to borrow most of the sales tax revenue that all cities got from gasoline sales to help the state’s deficit.

Mayor Duane Picanco couldn’t be reached for comment Friday, but he has previously called the condition of city’s streets “embarrassing.”

“It’s just obvious they’re in despair and we need to find money some way or another to get (repairs) accomplished,” he has said.

The City Council has made street maintenance a priority, as soon as there’s money to fund it. Public Works, which has seen a 49 percent cut in staff since 2009, has determined that in order to bring the roads up to 80 percent new — the council’s goal — it would require a one-time payment of $80 million. After that, an additional $3.2 million would be needed in annual upkeep.

The council authorized the city to hire the temporary help at a total expense of $190,000 per year for five years. Temporary workers would be limited to no more than six months’ employment before rotation. The money covers two maintenance specialist positions at $156,000 total and an additional $34,000 in material costs.

Officials have contacted temporary employment agencies, and recruitment and background checks on candidates are now under way, Monn said.

The possibility of hiring a regular full-time crew, in place of the temps, will be reviewed at the start of the year after the city’s next financial forecast, officials said.