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Paris leaders debate $1M bond
PARIS — A proposed $1M bond for badly-needed roadwork sparked discussion at a joint meeting of the budget committee and board of selectmen on Thursday, March 31.
Prior to the meeting, selectmen and budget committee members toured some of the town's worst roads on a school bus to get an idea of the work that needed to be done. Upon returning to the town office, the officials said that they recognized the severity of the problem, but many disagreed about how to solve it.
Committee and board members were also presented with the highway department's list of the roads that would be given the highest priority to receive repairs. The work on the list was priced out at a total of $1.2M
"I think it's rather obvious that there are a lot of roads that need fixing and it's our job to get them fixed," said Budget Committee Chair Vic Hodgkins.
"We're losing the roads faster than we're repairing them," echoed Phil Tarr.
To deal with the issue in the face of tough economic times, and an order from selectmen to maintain a flat budget, Tarr had proposed the town float a $1M bond to augment what they were raising in the budget, which would allow work to begin on the roads with the most need. The bond would be paid back over 5 years from 2012 to 2016 with a total of approximately $105,000 in interest.
"I've proposed that borrow $1M for road repair," said Tarr, citing east Oxford Road and Paris Hill Road as two that were in the most deperate need. "We have some projects in seriously bad shape and they're going to be top of the priorities to get done this year."
The bond would be used to take care of problems before they get worse and the price to fix them grows
Many in attendance, however, expressed concern about borrowing such a large sum of money.
"I have deep concerns about this budget and about going after a bond," said selectwoman Jean Smart. "There is a lot of information that we don't have and that we should have before we make a decision."
Nonetheless, said Smart, it is clear that the goal of a flat budget cannot be met without the bond, unless the town wants to sacrifice the ability to accomplish the road work projects.
"This budget is bond-dependent," said Smart. "It doesn't work without the bond."
Hodgkins agreed that the $1M was needed to maintain a budget that he described as "a delicate dance" between cutting spending, and attending to all of the town's responsibilities.
"Either we take the bond or we're going to have to do a lot more cutting. If we float the bond and we take a flatline budget, this works," said Hodgkins.
Without the bond, money would have to be found somewhere else in the budget to take care of fixing roads. The new budget calls for only $88,000 in road repairs before borrowing, down from about $250,000 last year.
"If we're not going to go for the bond, then we're going to have to go back to 250,000 for the roads," Hodgkins said.
Others expressed concern that taking out the bond just means deferring costs to a later date. Selectman Ted Kurtz and committee member Janet Jamison pointed to projections which placed the town's 2013 debt burden at $484,000. They felt the town should do more to address the costs in this year's budget, with or without the bond.
"I am not opposed to fixing the roads and paying while we enjoy them. It's just like buying a house; you don't need the cash up front, you take out a mortgage and pay over time," said Kurtz.
He added, however, that more ought to be done to limit the amount of money being borrowed. He suggested that the town defer the $180,000 purchase of a new plow truck, recommended by the highway department, in order to find some money up front and reduce the bond to $800,000.
"I would like to see us put $200,000 in the budget this year to start paying for the repairs," said Kurtz. "It's abhorrent to me taking it out of the budget. To me, that's all smoke and mirrors."
Jamison suggested that it might be time to cut back on services that had previosuly been deemed untouchable.
"It's going to make some people crazy, but do we really need a full-time police department?" asked Jamison. "Do we need all of the streetlights? Maybe, instead of sending someone around to see which ones we need, we should just turn them all off, except for the ones at [Market Square intersection]."
Smart suggested that the town revisit its goal of keeping the budget flat. New information about the road quality, she said, was not known when the target was initially set in January.
"Maybe another option to consider is that we should not flatline this budget," said Smart. "We have all this new information and when you get it, it's perfectly legitimate to change our minds."
The meeting concluded with neither the committee nor the selectmen reaching any conclusions on the bond issue. Both agreed to revisit the issue at their next meeting on Thursday, April 7. The issue will ultimately go to the voters at town meeting in June, and will be presented along with the recommendations of both the budget committee and the board of selectmen.