York County is accepting responsibility for the maintenance of new roads when it can’t afford the upkeep on roads that already exist. As County Council members recently acknowledged, maybe it’s time to look at alternatives.
Two council members, Joe Cox of Sharon and Bruce Henderson of Clover, voted recently not to bring four new roads in a subdivision under county control.
But they were outvoted by the other five council members who said the county had agreed with contractors to maintain the roads, and the county had to honor that agreement.
The debate prompted a discussion about whether the county should consider changing the rules about accepting responsibility for new roads in subdivisions and other developments. We think that discussion is worth having, but the council shouldn’t expect to find an easy solution.
For example, Cox’s and Henderson’s proposal that the county simply wash its hands of maintenance for new roads is untenable, especially when the county has already promised developers that it would take over their new roads.
Extending and maintaining county roads and other infrastructure to appropriate new developments will always be a responsibility of county government.
As Councilman Chad Williams noted, a decision not to accept new roads from subdivisions would put the burden on developers or homeowners associations to pay maintenance costs. And that likely would severely dampen new development.
Ironically, a slowdown in new residential development – especially in fast-growing parts of northern York County – might be welcome. But refusing to build and maintain roads is something of a blunt-instrument approach to controlling growth.
If the council wants to limit growth, it should do so through zoning.
Asking developers and homeowners associations to assume some of the road costs, however, might be an option. Again, though, road maintenance can be enormously expensive, and it might be a deal killer for developers or for customers looking to buy a house in a neighborhood where they will have to pay for road repairs.
What the county really needs is a long-term solution to road needs. The county has had a 1-cent sales tax for new roads through Pennies for Progress since 1997, and voters might prefer to use future proceeds from the tax to cover maintenance instead of new roads.
Another option might be to establish special tax districts for new developments, where new county tax revenues from increased property values are devoted to road repairs and maintenance.
The county also could offer incentives to contractors whose projects are in-fill housing developments, building new homes in existing neighborhoods. That way, new residents would be able to use roads that already are in place without paving new ones.
Ultimately, though, the county is not likely to find a way to simply divest itself of the responsibility to build and maintain roads. What it needs is a reliable source of revenue to do the job.