SYRACUSE -- More than half of a specific class of state road funds Syracuse city receives yearly from the Utah Department of Transportation is being poured into paying for personnel rather than being invested into pavement.
There is nothing inappropriate about the practice, a UDOT official says, as long as the wages covered by the road funds are for workers performing duties related to street maintenance.
But Syracuse leaders say they want to wean the city from the practice and invest more into maintaining streets.
Because of a tight budget, Syracuse, with a general fund of about $5.5 million, used roughly 65 percent -- $423,000 of the $650,000 it received in B & C road funds for fiscal year 2009-10 -- to pay wages and benefits of public works employees, officials said.
The city has reduced by 15 percent the amount being paid to street employees in its fiscal year 2010-11 budget, using $327,000 of the $650,000 the city is to receive in state road funds for street employees wages and benefits, said City Finance Manager Amber Fowles.
Because of the high debt incurred by previous administrations and tight finances the city is facing, it will take more than one budget cycle year to correct the problem, said first-term Mayor Jamie Nagle.
She said it may take as many as five budget cycles to turn a new direction. "It takes a long time to turn an aircraft carrier."
If the city had the money, some road projects she said she would like to see completed are the reconstruction and overlay of 1000 West from 2700 South to Bluff Road and 1000 West from 2700 South to 1700 South.
Former Mayor Fred Panucci said Nagle's approach to blame previous administrations for the current issues the city is facing is "unprofessional" and "naive."
"You have to provide services for your people," Panucci said. "It's real easy to play Monday-morning quarterback and to try and blame past administrations for current issues. Most people shut up and move on and deal with what they have.
"To whine and try to make an issue of it is not only unprofessional, but a little silly. There is no way you can start off with an absolute clean slate. There is always going to be something you inherit. That is just the way it works," said Panucci, who encountered road debt when he took office about a decade ago.
Fowles, who was hired in March, said, based on conversations she has had with state officials, she recognizes the city is not using its B & C road funds "inappropriately."
But, she said, the manner in which the city is using the money, in obligating a portion of the funds to pay salaries, is preventing the city from doing the larger road projects that need to be done.
"The general fund should be able to support the wages so that the road maintenance money can be used on street projects," Fowles said. "Because most of the money is going for wages, there is not a lot left for road projects."
The class B and class C road funds are 30 percent of the gas tax revenue, distributed on a basis of 50 percent by population and 50 percent by center lane miles in a county or a community, say UDOT officials.
"Agencies should be aware that these monies are intended for, and are limited to, construction and maintenance of eligible county roads and municipal streets. They are never to be used as a supplement to other fund accounts," according to UDOT regulations governing class B and class C road funds.
"It needs to be related to construction and maintenance of roads," said Matthew Swapp, UDOT local government programs engineer.
What Syracuse is using the funds for, he said, is appropriate and what the city is encountering is not much different from what other struggling cities and towns across the state are encountering.
"You have to pay your people to do the maintenance on the roads," Swapp said.
The city can do the smaller road projects with its own staff, he said. But one area where tying dollars to personnel cost may hurt the city is that any road project costing more than $150,000 cannot be done by in-house staff, but must be put out to bid to a private contractor.
"It sounds like the new mayor (Nagle) is trying to do the right thing there to ensure everything is done properly," Swapp said.
But should B & C road funds be used for an unrelated expense, like the purchase of a fire engine, Swapp said, it would be discovered through annual state audits and puts those funds at risk for the city.
He is not aware of any city ever having lost its class B and class C road funds.