Claremont Again Passes On Paving

Valley News Correspondent
Friday, May 19, 2017

Claremont — As it seems to do nearly every year, the City Council struggled Wednesday night with the problem of how to fund road paving while at the same time fretting about increasing the burden on taxpayers, who pay the highest overall tax rate in the state.

In his proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning on July 1, City Manager Ryan McNutt did not include any money for street paving and instead wants an assessment conducted of the city’s 180 miles of paved roads so repairs can be prioritized.

“That would give us a better set of data points,” said McNutt, who told the council he feels badly telling residents on lightly traveled neighborhood streets their road won’t be fixed anytime soon.

While the council did not object to the assessment — though some noted something similar has been done recently — they wanted more details before committing to spending between $50,000 and $75,000.

“We have to have a plan and it can’t be another assessment or relying on another bond,” Mayor Charlene Lovett said.

After not funding paving for a few years, the council bonded for $1.5 million in 2013, and Lovett does not see borrowing for paving as a permanent solution.

“I am adamant that if we go with a bond, it can’t take the place of putting money in the budget for roads,” Lovett said.

With no money in next year’s budget for paving, she said, the council is heading down the same path it did a few years ago.

“I don’t see any move to get us out of this situation,” she said.

Councilor Nick Koloski also was concerned with no paving and said it will just put the city further behind in its effort to repair the city’s paved roads.

“We are never going to get there,” Koloski said.

Councilor Bruce Temple reminded his colleagues he proposed adding $25,000 to the budget last year to begin building a reserve for a thorough “data driven” analysis of the roads.

This would go beyond just the condition of the road to include signage, curbing, hydrants and more.

Though there is no paving money, McNutt told the council infrastructure work in the coming year will include rebuilding Main Street from Opera House Square to the Main Street bridge (that project could go out to bid in a month), new sidewalks on Belding and Myrtle streets and the rebuilding of the intersection at the entrance to Wal-Mart on Washington Street.

One area where there may be some savings is in the repair of a culvert on Whitewater Road.

Estimated at $220,000, Public Works Director Scott Sweet sounded confident that the final cost could be considerably less, maybe even as low as $75,000.

If that is the case, Sweet’s department could do some road work or repair other culverts, including one on Bible Hill.

The council made no changes to the streets and roads budget, nor others budgets reviewed on Wednesday night, including fire, airport and cemeteries. It will review the last of the department budgets on May 24 and then hold a final meeting to decide on changes to the budget before presenting it to the public at a June 14 hearing.

During a break in the meeting, Lovett was asked if she would push to restore funding for the public bus service run by Southwestern Community Services. McNutt said last week he could find $25,000 in the budget without impacting taxes if that was the council’s desire.

“I think he understands that it seems to be a council priority,” Lovett said.

While she said she wanted to finish the complete budget review before deciding whether to support the bus service, Lovett noted that public transportation is a priority in both the city’s Master Plan and the council’s goals and objectives.

“I think the budget should reflect those priorities,” she said.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.