While there’s agreement the city needs to address road repairs, the funding for an extensive program, as the mayor has proposed with a $5 million bond, won’t happen this year and may not happen next year.
Mayor Scott Avedisian said Thursday he talked with Secretary of State Ralph Mollis, who told him it would be impossible to get the bond on the November ballot. The City Council unanimously approved a $5 million bond at its August meeting, but it won’t come up for second passage until this month.
The primary election isn’t until Sept. 9, meaning the general election ballot wouldn’t be finalized until those races had been decided. Because of that, it was thought there was still time to list the referendum.
Avedisian said that isn’t the case. He said by the time the council gives the bond second passage, “we will have missed the deadline.”
The next scheduled opportunity for voter consideration of the bond would not come until the fall of 2016.
Avedisian said he is researching what it would cost to conduct a special election. A consideration is a reduction in the number of polling locations, an issue he said he would pursue.
But what of repairs now, and the use of the $450,000 in the current budget?
“There’s some planned,” Avedisian said, “and we’ll use a lot [of the budget funds] in the spring as well.”
He said acting director of public works David Picozzi is working off a list that prioritizes needs.
In considering the mayor’s budget this spring, the council increased the allocation for road repairs by $1 million among other additions and revisions. The mayor vetoed the changes, but the council didn’t have the votes to override the vetoes with the exception of increasing the school budget by $500,000.
Ironically, within a month of finalizing the budget with additional funding for schools, the School Committee learned schools would finish the fiscal year with a larger than projected surplus.
In vetoing $1 million more for roads, Avedisian proposed the bond issue.
The proposal sparked debate, with some council members resuming the push to fund roadwork through operational expenditures rather than incurring added debt. The projected life of even a new road is less than 20 years, meaning taxpayers would be paying off the bond long after the roads would need another round of repairs. Secondly, after considering the cost on interest, the taxpayers would be paying $8 million for $5 million of repairs.
Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur, who pushed for $1.5 million in funding for road repairs from the operating budget, remains opposed to a bond issue.
“It’s not fiscally responsible to do that,” he said yesterday.
He said he would not look to stop a referendum, “since people should have their say.” However, he added he would work to see that voters make an “informed decision.”
Soon after the mayor proposed the road bond, acting chief of staff William DePasquale said the city needed to assess road conditions and develop plans to address the most seriously deteriorating roads first while taking measures to extend the lives of roads starting to show signs of deterioration. He put roads needing repairs into three basic categories, ranging from those where their condition could be extended by several years with minor work such as crack sealing to scraping and a fresh layer of asphalt to complete reconstruction.
With nearly 400 miles of city roads, it is not known at this time how far $5 million would go in repaving or road maintenance work. Generally, reconstructing a road is projected to cost $1 million a mile.
Picozzi, who could not be reached for this story, has sought to address the more seriously compromised roads through budget operating funds while requiring utility companies to repave roads when installing or replacing existing lines. As a practice, the Warwick Sewer Authority repaves the full road when installing sewers. With approval of $33 million to extend sewers mostly in the Bayside, Governor Francis Farms and O’Donnell Hill areas, those neighborhoods can expect to see new roads over the next several years. Those sewer installation projects are in the design stage. Some are expected to start next year.
Repaving has also taken place as National Grid replaces aging natural gas lines, although in some cases it has not been from curb to curb as Picozzi has sought.
Camille Vella-Wilkinson (D-Ward 3) is one of those council members who has noticed road improvements since last winter’s rash of potholes followed by an inordinate number of claims from motorists for tires and front end repairs.
She said she has “areas of concern for safety” in neighborhoods that lack sidewalks.
Overall, she said, “city streets are horrific,” although some work has been done.
As for what should happen now that a road bond won’t be on the November ballot, Vella-Wilkinson said she would like to see the cost of a special election.
Regardless of how repairs are funded, she concludes, “The whole thing is going to be expensive.”