Water, roads discussed at city's first strategic workshop

Discussions over water initiatives and road construction projects dominated much of the conversation at the city’s first strategic planning workshop last Wednesday.
David Dowswell (left) and Dagoberto Fierros (right) use their smartphones to participate in an ongoing poll during the city’s first strategic planning workshop on November 14, 2018. Photo by Matthew Keys

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litany” of people did turn out for the first workshop — enough to fill a square conference table that had been set up inside the training room of the public safety building and a row of chairs in the back of the room — but nearly everyone who showed up for the session were either city employees or those who had a stake in city business. Those who did turn out were given the opportunity to participate in an interactive polling service that allowed them to have a voice in what projects and services the city may prioritize over the next several decades. Among the topics discussed: How the city can improve its wastewater treatment facility and sewer collection services. One thing the city is looking to construct to improve sewer collection service is the addition of a bar screen to help prevent garbage and other items from ending up in wastewater collection facilities. “There’s all sorts of things that come in through the wastewater, all the poopy stuff, that isn’t that bad,” Donlevy said. “It’s all the other stuff that people put in the toilet [that needs to be screened out].” An influent bar screen would cost the city about $1.3 million to implement. Upgrading pipes and replacing pumps at pumping stations would cost an additional $580,000, according to a document circulated at the meeting. Shelly Gunby, the city’s director of financial management, said those projects and others related to wastewater and sewer services would come from enterprise funds that are collected by rate payers. The city increased water and sewer rates in August. Roads were another hot topic at the strategic planning meeting, with Public Works Operations Manager Eric Lucero laying out a number of projects that the city is looking to take up over the next several years. Those projects include the installation of at least two traffic lights — one at Grant Avenue and Main Street, the other along Grant Avenue near the southbound Interstate 505 offramps — as well as the widening of a portion of Grant Avenue from two lanes to four lanes. The installation of a second roundabout along Grant Avenue was also discussed. The four projects were expected to cost a little more than $8 million. “We need to figure out where we’re going to get the impact fees to do some of it,” Lucero said, adding that he hoped to see grants from CalTrans and the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) pay the way for some of those projects. While the amount of money may seem steep, Winters Contract Planner Dave Dowswell said the projects were necessary because of the new development in town. “Without development we’re not going to just go out and put roundabouts and traffic signals in,” Dowswell said. “As development occurs, there’s going to be a tipping point where something triggers a need.” For existing streets, Donlevy acknowledged some roads needed to be ripped out and replaced altogether, but that extending the life of current streets was more financially feasible. “There’s some streets in town that are bad that need to be pulled out and redone, but they’re very expensive,” Donlevy said. “We [don’t] really go out and fix any single street…we just [go] out and extend the life.” Extending the life of the streets involves a process called slurry sealing — basically, resurfacing a road with a cold-mix paving treatment that sits on top of the existing asphalt. “If we just looked at the maintenance, we’re spending about $170,000 a year on trying to maintain our infrastructure on some things,” Donlevy said. Some of that money comes from gas taxes — as the price of gas increases, the amount of money the city can collect in taxes also increases. But Gunby said that price amounts to a “teeny, tiny increase” in collection because the city’s population is not as large compared to other communities. “When you have a stagnant population, which the city of Winters has had over the past decade…then you see the disportioncate growth for them and the lack of growth for us,” Gunby said, comparing Winters to larger cities. “If we go back and look at the population over the last 10 years, if we gained 200 people, that would be a lot for us.” That small increase in population can hurt efforts to get contractors in to the city to bid on construction projects, City Engineer Alan Mitchell said. “If you’re putting out $200,000 versus a $1 million budget, what do you think contractors are going for?” Mitchell said, estimating that the city has a $2 million backlog on street improvement projects. “It costs us more to spend less…it’s kind of a double-edged sword.” Which is why the strategic planning workshop meetings are so important: With only so much money to go around, the city is trying to figure out how to prioritize projects over the next several years, and possibly over the next 10 to 20 years, based on the feedback it gathers from community leaders and residents. At the workshops, the city provides an opportunity for those in attendance to voice their opinion in an equitable way — as long as people turn up, city officials don’t have more of a say than residents in attendance and vice versa. That feedback is gathered through an online voting mechanism that requires participants to have a smartphone. At several points during the workshop, Donlevy interrupted the session to pose a question to the audience, asking them to text in a response to an interactive poll where results are anonymized and displayed in real-time. On road infrastructure projects, 44 percent of people in attendance said they viewed road repair projects as the highest priority for city money, followed by sidewalk repair and the installation and upkeep ADA-compliant ramps. Farther down on the priority list: Street lighting, curbs and the installation and upkeep of signs. “If you look at what we [currently] spend [city funds] on, it’s exactly in that order,” Donlevy said. The second strategic planning workshop will focus on public safety. The city plans on holding that meeting on Dec. 12.

Note: This post has been updated to provide context to a reference of a quotation.]]>

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