New BoCo transportation director and the future of subdivision roads

Photo by Mary Wolbach Lopert

New Boulder County Transportation director Jeff Maxwell

This article is the third in a series, which explores various subdivision paving issues in unincorporated Boulder County.

Of HOAs and PIDs

Jeff Maxwell, the new director of Boulder County Transportation, is well aware of road conditions and the ensuing issues involving subdivisions in the unincorporated county. He was very clear about what county transportation can and cannot do. Whether working with HOAs or creating a PID (Public Improvement District), county transportation can only act as technical support, but cannot provide funding, according to Maxwell.

For those communities that want to work through their HOA, Maxwell said, “What we’re doing on the county’s end is developing all the analysis and the engineering components project.”

These components include doing an early assessment of the problem. “Our engineering teams will put together the full bid package, all the engineering specs, and everything you would need to go out to bid to get contractors onboard to construct the improvements.”

There is also a “spectrum of improvements,” according to Maxwell. Some communities may not want a 30-year fix, but instead, “There are some people who just want a real cost effective (fix) implemented immediately.” These repairs would be viable for 10 to 15 years before more serious repairs are needed.

In addition, the department provides construction inspection during the reconstruction to ensure the HOAs are getting what is wanted and needed.

“We are trying to give … as much support staff as we can through the process, short of the funding, of course, because that is a BOCC policy that we can’t violate.”

As for cost savings, besides piggybacking on scheduled road maintenance, as the Brittany Park subdivision is doing in conjunction with the repaving of Niwot Road, Maxwell suggested that several neighborhoods within a community band together for group savings, so there aren’t such large startup costs.

This group effort might be best served through a PID, as Brittany Place formed. Creating a PID must come from the people and communities involved. Maxwell explained. While county transportation cannot help in the formation of a PID, once the PID is initiated and filed with the county, then “we just take it from there as far as getting it on the ballot.”

“We, just as public servants, can’t advocate for certain things politically. That kind of is a gray area for the PID,” Maxwell said. “So we can definitely be supportive of you in putting it on the ballot, but you would have to initiate the PID and signature collection.”

The Subdivision Incentive Fund

In early 2015, an annual incentive fund of $1 million was established by county transportation to aid subdivision property owners in road maintenance. Due to the September 2015 Boulder County floods, the incentive fund has not been renewed.

It should be noted that although incentive funds haven’t been available since 2016, the original information about the fund still appears on the county transportation website.

When asked if the fund might be reinstated and if so when, Maxwell said that there is a possibility that the fund might be restored, although the 2020 budget has not been set yet. “If we do have more funding available…, I will make sure that the subdivisions are made aware of that.”

Maxwell added that he didn’t think there was any direct correlation between renewing the incentive fund and what FEMA may owe the county for flood expenditures. While the floods were a life-threatening event that has taken years to recover from, the county is still functioning. The county has grant applications pending for the floods that are still being processed.

County tax dollars

Through property taxes, Boulder County residents are taxed for roads. “The revenue we collect from the subdivisions is about $176 per house and what we spend on that, just on subdivisions themselves, is about $106 to $110 per year, just on snow and ice control and pothole maintenance, etc.”, Maxwell said “Which leaves us $60 or $70 for the rest of the entire countywide roadway network, which is of course massive.”

There are approximately 146 miles of roadways in 120 unincorporated county subdivisions.

Maxwell understands county residents’ frustration. The issue is that while residents are contributing to maintain roads, it’s not a workable scale.

One possible solution would be a countywide taxing initiative. There was an initiative in 2013, but it failed. The initiative would have created a PID to raise taxes up to $3.3 million to pay for the cost of road rehabilitation through “an ad valorem property tax mill levy imposed at a rate not to exceed 7.15 mills.”

Election results showed that while City of Boulder residents voted for the initiative, county residents did not. The initiative failed by a 43% to 53% vote, with county subdivisions voting against the measure.

“It was the PID that failed,” Maxwell said. “Because the PID failed, the commissioners then implemented a LID (Local Improvement District) and that’s when the commissioners were taken to court to determine that a LID could not be used for resurfacing roads.”

What is gaining momentum, Maxwell said, is a group effort. “We have several people in subdivisions who are banding together to form a countywide PID. They’ve been working on that for quite a long time and that seems to be gaining traction with a lot of the subdivisions.” Maxwell said they are exploring how they can join forces and have some economy of scale when they are going out to get some bid prices, and get roads constructed.

The point person for this group is Peter King-Smith. King-Smith has been involved with previous efforts to fix subdivision roads, including the 2016 county ballot issue 1A, a road and bridge mill levy increase. The issued failed to pass by a 45% to 54% vote.

Looking ahead, Niwot Community Association board member Liz Marr and NCA President David Limbach don’t see anything happening for a while. Limbach said, “The current efforts under discussion by a number of private citizens that try to communicate with our county representatives. The current thinking is that there are too many funding measures already slated for the next two election cycles that perhaps 2021 might be the best time to try and get a measure on the ballot.”

Marr added, “...The County is in the midst of updating the plan. And that impacts what would go on the ballot and when.”

Anyone who is interested in the new PID effort should contact Maxwell. His email is jmaxwell@bouldercounty.org, or call 303-441-3955.