HOULTON, Maine — Although most town roads are paved with asphalt, the town still has a few dirt or gravel roads, and now has the opportunity to take over another 3,300 feet of them.
But with the cost of road maintenance rising, town councilors were hesitant to make the move during a meeting last week.
Jim Brown, who established the Country Fields subdivision just off County Road in Houlton, has been maintaining those roads since he set up the establishment and began selling lots several years ago. At this point, 12 to 14 lots have been sold and six homes have been constructed, with the potential for three more homes to be constructed in the near future.
“The town has some nice taxable values out there,” he said, adding that his goal “has always been to turn the roads over to the town.”
The roads in the subdivision are gravel and built to town specifications, so the town could pave them in the future. Brown said he never intended to pave the roads, something those who purchased lots in the subdivision knew ahead of time.
Council Chairman Paul Cleary noted that Brown was the victim of bad timing when he came before them at the meeting, as the cost of fuel for plow trucks and the price of salt are on the rise.
“My concern is that it comes before us at the worst time to take over roads,” said Cleary. “We would have to do winter and summer maintenance, and we already have a huge roads budget. It is a tough decision to make.”
Town Manager Douglas Hazlett acknowledged that taking on the roads likely would come at an added cost, but said that for “the sake of public safety,” he preferred that the town did not have any private roads.
Cleary speculated that accepting the roads could open up a Pandora’s box for the town, with other private road owners asking for the town to take them over.
Councilors John Fitzpatrick and Walter Goodrich were in favor of taking over the roads.
Goodrich noted that the sub-division is very close to the Houlton Southside School and Houlton Elementary School, and that Brown said a lot of children live out there.
“If there are a lot of children in the subdivision, we have a responsibility to keep it safe,” he maintained.
Councilors Sue Tortello and Brian Donnelly said they hesitated to make a decision on the matter until they had more information.
Tortello wanted to know how many private roads are in town and how much it would cost the public works department to maintain the subdivision roads.
Donnelly said he first would like to see what the coming year’s roads budget looks like before taking further action.
The council is expected to make a decision on the matter after they receive the requested information.