Farmington voters may be facing two bonding questions – one for $2 million and another for $3 million. But, if you drive much in town, you may agree the need is real.
Town Manager Kathy Eagen presented her proposal for the town’s Five-Year Capital Improvement Plan Tuesday night, a document designed to guide the town’s spending on maintenance of infrastructure like roads and buildings and routine replacement of equipment like police cruisers, plow trucks and firefighting gear as well as large occasional items.
The town’s policy is to strive to maintain or replace these items on a regular schedule and with cash out of the General Fund, Recreation Fund or the Water Pollution Control Fund. Occasionally, it makes more fiscal sense to bond the items.
Of the $9,212,800 2013-14 proposed capital budget, town staff recommended $5,475,000 for bonding. The remaining funds will come from the General Fund and other funds (Recreation, Water Pollution Control or West Woods funds).
Catch up on road repair is the first of the two major projects proposed for bonding. Eagen recommends bonding $3 million for road repair in town in 2013-14, which staff hope will be sufficient to repair about 10 miles of road. Sometimes the cost to resurface a road can be as little as $300,000 per mile but the town recently spent $1.3 million to repair one mile of Middle Road, with drainage, striping, curbs and other expenses.
No money has been allocated for road reconstruction since 2010 and money has run out, halting repairs until after the bond package is approved, Highway Superintendent Scott Zenke said.
Roads all over town are slated for work under the proposed plan, most in one or a few tenths of a mile portions. A complete list of roads on the list is at the bottom of this article.
Irving A Robbins
Eagen also proposed bundling four large projects at Irving A Robbins Middle School that are considered high priority. Projects include $950,000 for parking lot improvements, $225,000 for an emergency operations generator, $200,000 for tennis court replacement and $1,100,000 for a new heating plant.
The parking lot at IAR has problems with icing, drainage, traffic flow, lighting, signage and various features jutting out into the road so that they are frequently dinged by plow trucks, said Russ Arnold, Farmington Public Works director. Many parking lots in town need reconstruction, Arnold said, but are often overlooked as a funding priority.
The emergency generator proposed for IAR would enable the town to use the school as a second emergency shelter – something officials realized they might need when Farmington High School, the town’s emergency shelter, became inaccessible as water rose over Route 4. A second emergency shelter would also limit the distance residents on the east side of town would have to travel, should roads become impassible as they were during the October 2011 snowstorm.
The $1.1 million heating plant for the school is a Board of Education request and not discussed by the council.
Whether or not to bundle the items and bond them was, too. New Town Councilor Amy Suffredini said that taking on more debt was questionable.
But Town Finance Director Josephy Swetcky said the town has been decreasing its debt rapidly and is in a good position to taken on more.
“We’ve been decreasing about $5 million a year so overall , our debt is going down. What we’re starting to see, too, is our debt service payments going down right now 800,000 coming off debt service next year… When we get to a certain acceptable level we try not to go below that level,” Swetcky said. “The council said to me 6 or 7 years ago ‘get us off the roller coaster we want level debt service’ so you do have capacity for debt service… We’ve been preparing to take on this debt for 10 years."
Some council members questioned whether the IAR package could pass at a town vote.
In 2014-15, Farmington is due to bond $50 million for repairs and improvements at the Water Pollution Control plant.
Town Council Chairman Jeff Hogan, while not endorsing the bond projects, agreed with Eagen that the items in the capital plan are necessary and bundling the IAR items into a bond a possible way to get them done.
“There are certain things you are responsible for in government: roads, schools, buildings …but this year I get more emails about roads. Then you drive on those roads and you know they’re bad. I like the approach you’ve taken,” Hogan said to Eagen. “I think we have to make some decisions about bundling or unbundling the bond issues but I think this was a really good discussion about the priorities tonight.”