For those in attendance at the special town meeting Monday night in New Milford, the choice of voting for or against the $2,485,000 road bond could not have been tougher.
I went to the meeting with the hope the money would be spent more wisely. I ended up voting with 34 other residents against the bond; 44 residents voted for the bond.
There is a road problem in New Milford. Why would I not want to fund a road system that clearly has signs of distress?
After listening to speakers for and against the road bond I realized there is a mind-set in New Milford that:
1) Bond money is the only way to fund a road capital project.
2) Any resident traversing his or her road wants that road to be the one fixed first.
3) A realistic amount of funding for road repair would be impossible to get approved in an annual budget, so approving a bond right after the budget is approved is the only way to fund the necessary work.
This mind-set results in residents paying more in property taxes. Essentially I don't like to waste money.
1) Borrowed money must cost more than money approved in an annual town budget with interest costs. Yes, the borrowing rate has never been better, but it is still borrowing.
To state all capital town investments are made with borrowed money is misleading. The volunteer fire department has used a sinking fund account for capital purchases for years. A little amount stored away each year will accrue into a sizable sum.
A sinking fund mechanism of financing road work, premised with sound road maintenance planning, will always result in a lower cost.
Bonds have been used in town since the '90s, but that does not make it the only and best way to finance road repair. It is clear what has been done in the past is not working. Why would it in the future?
Bottom line, the money still comes out of your pocket using either bonding or sinking fund.
Doesn't it make sense to use the method of financing that makes the final cost the least?
2) It is part of human nature to want the road in front of your house to be fixed. I live off Candlewood Lake Road North and had prepared dialogue for Monday's meeting, joking how my road is more deserving to get a total rebuild than Chapin Road, a road where cars are few and far between.
The joke would be on the taxpayer who pays the tab when the most deserving road is not included.
3) Not enough money is approved for the kind of road work that extends a road's life. Simple repairs must be done in a timely manner on good roads.
Sealing is essential to keeping the pavement in good condition and must be applied before distress cracks appear, before the phone calls to DPW are logged.
I believe if the mayor were to communicate the need for up-front, in-the-budget funding for planned road repair, there would ultimately be less need for total reconstruction work.
Communications and dialogue are critical to any good plan.
It has been 10 years since I first proposed a quantitative road repair plan. I had compiled a list that detailed what roads should be fixed in what year for five fiscal years ahead.
Instead generating discussion as to the wisdom of my road selection, treatment application, and timing of the work, the report was ignored.
Ten years later, and we have not moved any closer to having a maintenance plan in place that is quantitative in nature.
It is evident by the addition of a road such as Chapin Road to the current road bond list that road selections are made on a less-than-quantitative basis.
It is mind-boggling that $438,000 for a road that suddenly shows up on the 2012 capital road list is approved in a few hours' time, when budget meetings drag on for hours over a few thousand dollars.
We have got to stop tripping on the dollars to pick up the nickels. This cycle of waste must end.
Pat Hackett is a resident of New Milford and a former town engineer and public works director in New Milford.