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St. Helena considers general obligation bond to fund infrastructure

St. Helena considers general obligation bond to fund infrastructure

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City of St. Helena

The City of St. Helena is considering placing a general obligation bond measure on a 2022 ballot, as it scrambles to make up for decades of underinvestment in infrastructure.

Presented Tuesday with several options for short-term funding of infrastructure, the City Council was most interested in a general obligation (GO) bond, which would be backed by an ad valorem property tax.

A bond measure would require two-thirds voter approval and could go before voters either during the June primary election or the November general election. The city last used the method to fund the firehouse in the 1990s.

Low interest rates make this an ideal time to pursue bonds, according to City Manager Mark Prestwich, who recommended hiring a consultant to conduct a poll before determining the size of the bond measure or which projects it would fund.

There’s no shortage of options. Studies have identified more than $11 million in necessary maintenance of city buildings over the next 20 years and $34.7 million in necessary maintenance of storm drains, water and sewer systems by 2030. A Mills Lane storm drain that’s already in the design phase is facing a $4.6 million shortfall.

In all, St. Helena has $65 million in largely unfunded infrastructure projects, not including $24 to $54 million for a new City Hall or $6 million for a new police station.

A financial diagnostic performed by a consultant issued two “warnings” related to the city’s ability to maintain its facilities and roads.

Aside from the potential bond, city staff will report back to the council on possibly leasing or selling underused city property, including the former City Hall site on Main Street, the current interim City Hall on Railroad Avenue, and the Carnegie Building.

The council decided not to pursue a real estate transfer tax, at least for now. Such a tax would require ballot measures making St. Helena a charter city and imposing the tax. In 2014, a 1% transfer tax was estimated to raise $1.6 million a year.

Napa County might use a high-tech system to try to detect fires soon after ignition, with the hope an early warning gives firefighters the jump they need to prevent raging, massive wildfires.

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You can reach Jesse Duarte at 967-6803 or jduarte@sthelenastar.com.

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