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ROCKLAND, Maine — Nearly 90 percent of the roads here are in need of improvements, according to estimates from city officials. But Rockland is trying to figure how to secure funding for those fixes.
And that will likely require help from taxpayers.
Rockland City Council is considering asking voters to borrow as much as $10 million in order to resurface — and in some cases reconstruct — city roads in need of repair. If voters consent, the funding also would be used in part for long-needed sewer and stormwater separation work that often is done in tandem with road repair, according to City Manager Tom Lutrell.
Rockland Public Services Department is compiling a list of roads in the city that need repair and what those repairs will cost. But according to interim Public Services Director Chris Donlin, the situation is dire, with nearly 90 percent of the city’s roads needing repair, he said.
“Frankly, some of these roads are impassable,” Donlin said. “[Repair and maintenance] is difficult when it’s coming at you from all sides.”
$10 million question
Just how much Rockland needs to cover these costs won’t be clear until the public services department completes its roadwork inventory. But Luttrell said the $10 million bond question the city is considering is a “placeholder” until the actual figure is determined.
After passing an initial vote last week, the City Council will make its final vote on the bond question at its Sept. 9 meeting. Prior to the vote, a public hearing will be held. If the council votes in favor of the bond measure, voters will ultimately decide in November on a ballot referendum.
This year, Luttrell said that only about $150,000 was allocated in the city budget for road improvement projects. At that rate, it would take years to repair Rockland’s deteriorating infrastructure.
But by borrowing a lump sum of money, Luttrell said city work crews would be able to address most of the roads within a year or two, as opposed to waiting for the funding to come piecemeal through the city budget over a number of years
“That’s what council is going to deliberate over over the next month. Do we want to do it all at once with the bond? Or, do we just add money to the budget every year to take care of the roads that need attention?” Luttrell said.
This past winter and spring dealt a particularly rough blow to the city’s roads. Luttrell said a number were left in crumbling conditions, and new potholes developed every day.
“We heard from a lot of people that we need to be addressing our roads, get caught up with them and maintain them going forward — which we totally agree with,” Luttrell said.
City Councilor Amelia Magjik said at a City Council meeting earlier this month that the bond is necessary to “get a leg up” on the roadwork.
“We have an enormous amount of catch up to play on the roads,” Magjik said. “Just maintaining, maintaining, maintaining, but never making a concerted effort to catch up to where we need to be, isn’t going to make us any progress at all. It’s just going to keep the wheel grinding.”
However, it’s unclear how much taxpayers are willing to spend.
“I’m not hearing from the public that there is an appetite for a $10 million bond,” City Councilor Valli Geiger said.
She said residents might be more supportive of allocating additional funding in the city budget each year for paving projects, rathering than adding to the city’s debt.
The cost of repaying the $10 million bond over a 10-year period with an estimated 2 percent interest rate would cost more than $1 million per year, Luttrell said.
If the City Council decides not to ask voters to borrow $10 million, Lutrell said the council would add as much as half a million dollars to the budget every year for the purpose of repairing the roads.
Rockland spent nearly $2.7 million this summer on roadwork. That funding was made available through a bond that was approved by voters in 2015. Luttrell said about 18 roads were repaved with that funding, but more work is needed.