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Taxpayers have paid the bill for street inspections, developers to pay full cost

Taxpayers footing the bill for street inspections
Posted at 8:18 PM, Sep 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-22 13:13:22-04

CORPUS CHRISTI  — “We need a street that lasts 30 years, not a street that lasts three years,” Greg Smith, the District 4 Corpus Christi city councilman, said.

Smith said 56 percent of streets built in subdivisions between 2011 and 2014 are currently below standard.

“Half the streets that we receive from developers don’t perform the way they’re supposed to,” Smith said. “They’re poor streets.”

“A lot of our streets are well made, but boy are you seeing a lot of red,” Smith said as he pointed to a map full of red and blue highlighted streets.

Blue were above standard and red were below.

Smith said even though some of the degradation is obvious, a lot is below the surface.

“When they put the pipes in, they didn’t pack the dirt in good enough so there’s valley’s in the streets,” Smith said. “You have pavement that’s cracking in there. Maybe it wasn’t thick enough.”

But, Wendy Herman, executive officer of the Coastal Bend Homebuilder Association, disputes these figures. She says streets built by developers during this time frame were not all designed to be built to a 30-year standard. Saying the city changed the standards in 2013, and that's when developers began building streets to the specifications required by the city.

She said the city recently changed street standards once again, meaning the quality of streets has continued to improve.

When a subdivision is built, developers are responsible for building the streets, along with all the infrastructure underneath the street. Throughout this process, the city has a responsibility to inspect the work as it's being done.

“My department has that responsibility to do those inspections to make sure the construction meets the approved plans,” Jeff Edmonds, the director of engineering services for the City of Corpus Christi, said.

But, Smith said for the past decade or so, the city has not been charging the developers a fee to inspect those streets. Developers agreed to begin paying the fee last year, which will increase over the next four years.

“There was a fee last year and council agreed to a four-year phase-in,” Edmonds said. “After year four we should be recovering our cost. So that cost is being shifted from the taxpayer to the developer.”

Smith said when the city doesn’t charge a full fee, taxpayers foot the bill.

“You and I are paying for it in our property taxes and our utility bills,” Edmonds said.

While developers have already agreed to pay the costs of six full-time and three part-time inspectors, last month engineering services asked City Council to consider adding four additional inspectors to its ranks — costs developers would have to absorb.

During the presentation, they said inspectors needed to spend more time inspecting projects to ensure streets being turned over to the city by developers don't have problems down the road.

Herman says she doesn't believe additional inspectors will mean better streets, ultimately she says if the city wants better roads it must increases standards, saying considering concrete roads should be an option.

Herman says developers pay a third-party company to take core samples of the streets they build, which is presented to the city, at which point city engineers determine if the street meets standards that it has set.

"We felt like adding more inspectors would not necessarily equate to better streets what we need to do is look at better standards for the street and maintenance that the city is responsible for doing on these streets," she said.

One council member disagrees and believes the council should hire more inspectors.

”We all know the conditions of our streets,” Smith said. “We need to be working for those existing streets now — not having to go in a few years after we get a dedicated street from a developer, and having to be fixing those when we need to be taking care of those long-term streets.”

But councilmember at-large Mike Pusley says hiring four additional inspectors is off the table for now. Over the next year, the city will work instead on coming up with a process on how inspections should be handled, who inspects what, and who is responsible for paying for what.

"When it got down to it, the developers and the city were confused as to who was doing what," Pusley said.

He said he wanted to pause before adding any additional fee, adding any fee added to the developer would ultimately be passed on to homeowners.

Pusley says the city has a part to play in the problem and needs to look at its design criteria.

“You start running concrete trucks, delivery trucks, and lumber trucks that go across the street during that residential process,” Pusley said.

Pusley added the city needs to take a step back to see how they can make roads stronger or have stricter inspection standards.

We’re getting streets that are obviously failing,” Pusley said. “Let’s do more inspection to make sure they’re built as they should be built.”

Pusley said he wants to make sure inspection standards are better.

“We need to make certain that we’re doing the proper inspections that the city has the proper inspections,” Pusley said. “And that a lot of times, what the staff showed us is that the inspectors are just so busy because we have so much growth going on in Corpus Christi.”