HOULTON, Maine — The town has tried for years to stay ahead of road and sidewalk repair, but the increasing costs of asphalt and other materials have thwarted its efforts.
Now the town is asking voters to decide whether to approve a $1 million bond to be used specifically for road repair. A special election to decide the matter is scheduled for March, Town Manager Doug Hazlett said on Wednesday.
Normally, the Town Council sets aside around $250,000 for road repair.
“We have not been able to keep pace with the increasing cost of road repair for some time,” Hazlett acknowledged. “We can continue to try to put a little bit of money into this every year or we can go after a bond.”
Hazlett said he believes now is the perfect time to pursue a bond.
“Bond rates are at a historic low right now,” he said. “The bond will allow us to do sidewalks and all of the very poor roads, so that when we return to $250,000 or $300,000 in 2010, it will be enough to keep up with maintaining all of the roads and keep them from deteriorating. Putting $1 million worth of work out to bid may also allow a boost for local contractors in a year in which they may need the work.”
Town Council Chairman Paul Cleary agreed.
“If the bond passes, we will be able to repair most, if not all, of the sidewalks and pave and repair a good portion of our town roads while basically keeping the budget and taxes neutral,” he said.
“The bond is good for the town of Houlton,“ he continued. “We can actually get caught up on sidewalks and roads and get them repaired so we can move forward on maintaining them instead of trying to play catch-up every year.”
This year, the town did not put any money into its road account because it hopes to secure the bond. If the bond proposal fails, the town will have to decide what to do next.
Hazlett said the town would look to pay the bond off in 20 years.
There has been some opposition to the bond’s passage already, however, with residents objecting to it at a recent council meeting and in a letter to the editor printed in the local newspaper. Some are worried that the bond will put an unfair burden on future taxpayers.
The town plans to do more to raise public awareness about the bond proposal. Hazlett said on Wednesday he did not have a feeling yet about whether voters would approve the bond
“I believe it is the right thing for the community to do,” he said. “The board of budget review has recommended that we do this, and the council will recommend that the voters approve it. I hope people will approve it so we can get this work behind us.”