I would first like to take this opportunity to discuss the Town’s comprehensive plan for road maintenance.
In the ten years prior to my becoming First Selectman the Town spent $220,000 per year on road maintenance. Of that amount approximately $130,000 per year came from revenues received under the State Town Aid to Roads (TAR) program.
A review of our road system quickly reveals that –
- decades of underfunding have taken a toll on our roads
- the Town’s failure to use crack sealing, a technique commonly used by other towns and even homeowners, has removed a common method to control road decay from our maintenance program
- many of our roads have gone so long without proper maintenance that total reconstruction is the only option
- the Town needs to increase its annual road maintenance funding level
As part of my first budget in FY08-09 we increased the town’s funding for road maintenance by $100,000, over twice the Town’s annual share of $90,000 in the preceding ten years. In the FY10-11 budget we recognized that there was a need for a Pavement Management Plan to develop a long term course of action. Despite previous estimates by the Town Engineer that such a study would cost $150,000 we were able to obtain consultant services for $30,000 to accomplish that task.
The Pavement Management Plan which was placed on the Town website and was one of the items discussed at the Annual Town meeting provided the first comprehensive analysis of our roads, including pavement condition, curbing and drainage issues. It graded each road by specific sections, i.e., intersection to intersection, and recommended techniques necessary to achieve a reasonable condition. The Plan recommends various techniques of maintenance based on road condition including crack sealing, overlying, chip sealing and total reconstruction.
The Plan recommends the Town allocate approximately $700,000 per year for road maintenance and that the cost to return our road to high standards could cost $15M to $17M. Most Towns choose to achieve a fair to good or C+ standard. Obviously if we choose to accept that standard the costs would be less.
The current adopted Town budget for FY11-12 increased the annual maintenance level to $425,000. Next year the budget should be increased an additional $200,000 to the $625,000 in order to move closer to the Plan’s recommended spending level.
The only way to accomplish the significant improvements needed to bring our road back to an acceptable level in a timely manner will be through the use of bond monies. Towns have recognized that annual budget appropriations cannot fund the improvements necessary to upgrade their road systems. Recently, the Towns of Avon, Farmington, Simsbury, Suffield, Berlin and Enfield have approved such funding. Several weeks ago East Hampton approved $3M in bonding for road upgrades.
For the past several years the Board of Finance has advised the Boards of Selectmen and Education that they were not ready to consider any new bonding until FY2012 when the Town’s debt level had been reduced. As we approach that date I would recommend that the Town consider allocating $4M to $6M for future road repairs and upgrades.
The second issue to address is the Board of Selectmen’s request to use $160,000 of the $198,000 surplus funds from the fiscal year which ended June 30, 2011 to augment this year’s road maintenance funding. That surplus occurred because the Town was able to spend less than projected in such accounts as attorney fees and employee benefits. After the reallocation of these monies the Town’s Auditors have determined that our unallocated fund balance will still be at an acceptable level.
Some political candidates would have you believe that these monies should have been accounted for by raising the tax rate this year. In fact that would result in taxpayers having been taxed twice for the same money since the $160,000 came from previous year taxes that were already paid for by taxpayers.
The current adopted Selectmen’s budget was a 1.5 percent increase, not a 2.8 percent increase over the previous year expenditure level. In the past three years the Selectmen responded to the current fiscal crisis by decreasing the budget by an average of ½ percent per year while increasing the expenditure for road maintenance to $425,000 this year.
Surpluses occur because of good fiscal management and costs of services being lower than anticipated. That is not election year political gimmickry as alleged by some candidates for office but what taxpayers should expect of their town officials. If the Town is able to provide its services this year while achieving a surplus the additional monies should again be used for additional road improvements.