The City Council gave first passage last Wednesday to placing a $5 million road repair bond on the November ballot.
But even if voters get the chance to consider the referendum and approve it, it’s unlikely any work could be done before next summer. And then there’s the question what roads out of the city’s 2,000 roads making up nearly 500 miles of asphalt should be treated first, not to mention what measures should be taken.
In addition, funding of road repairs is at play. The questions are: how much should the city spend, and how are taxpayers going to foot the bill?
On those points there were, and continue to be, differences of opinion. In May, Mayor Scott Avedisian proposed a budget that included $450,000 for road maintenance. Some council members said more money was needed, and the council increased the amount by $1 million. The council budget with the extra million, however, was vetoed by the mayor.
In response to the cry for increased road repairs, the mayor proposed a $5 million bond. When it came to keeping the added million in the budget, the council was one vote shy of overriding Avedisian’s veto.
Nonetheless, the debate over bonding road repairs isn’t over. Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur would like to see $1.5 million budgeted for each of the next five years for roadwork. He says bonding the work is wrong because the repairs will only last for seven to 10 years, yet taxpayers will be paying off the bill for the next 20 years. Furthermore, taxpayers will pay an additional $3 million in interest costs.
“We should have taken the responsible approach,” Ladouceur argues.
Nonetheless the council, including Ladouceur, voted to put the $5 million road referendum on the November ballot. The measure gained unanimous first passage. But what couldn’t be answered Friday is that even with second passage, is there enough time to get it on the November ballot?
William DePasquale, city planner and interim chief of staff, said the city is researching that issue.
“We’re working with the secretary of state,” he said.
While the primary ballot has been printed, the November ballot won’t be off the presses until after the Sept. 9 primary. There would appear to be time with the council’s second passage.
The administration has also conferred with its bond counsel, DePasquale said, and based on the current level of bonded debt is not required to gain General Assembly legislation.
As for an approach to selecting roads for repairs and repaving, being the planner, DePasquale outlined three levels of work from addressing roads that “show fatigue” such as being cracked, to needing a scrapping and resurfacing to a complete reconstruction.
As an example, he cited Cowesett Green Drive into 17 Farms. While approaching 20 years in age, which is generally considered the lifespan of a newly built road, the drive shows signs of fatigue. It could be a candidate for crack sealing that could extend its life by another 10 years.
“It very hard to tell what roads need what at this point,” DePasquale said.
He drew a parallel to city vehicles from Department of Public Works’ trucks and heavy equipment to fire apparatus including ladders and rescues. With limited resources, he said the administration is compiling an assessment of all the equipment and developing a plan.
“We’re going to let the facts drive these capital improvements…without adversely affecting the taxpayer,” he said.
DePasquale said the city needs to establish the “enormity of the problem and systematically address it.” Also, he added, the city needs to look at its plans for roads and equipment replacement every year.
Any way the issue is addressed, whether road repairs are paid through bonding, out of the operating budget or a combination of the two, a significantly larger effort won’t be forthcoming until next summer at the earliest.