TOWNSEND -- Selectmen advised the capital planning committee Thursday evening to include road repair funding in its normal ranking process for capital improvements to be funded next year.
The Capital Planning Committee had reached out to selectmen for guidance on how to balance road repair with other capital needs, after a joint meeting in September at which it was agreed that road maintenance should be a top priority.
Capital Planning Chairman Lorna Fredd, who attended the meeting to solicit guidance, received little as Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Sue Lisio told her to include the roads in the committee's normal ranking process.
"I personally am not looking to interrupt that process, and I don't think that we could blanketly say that roads take precedence over something else if we don't know the details yet of what those somethings are. The bottom line is if something breaks and needs to get fixed and it's a higher priority, then so be it," Lisio said.
Town Administrator Andrew Sheehan also advised the committee to rank the projects as they normally would.
"I don't think it's all or nothing, the roads versus everything else. The committee needs to rank the projects based on the merits of the projects depending on what we have for funding at Town Meeting in May," Sheehan said.
With only $200,000 in the capital stabilization fund to pay for capital projects, Fredd said that it seemed as though the committee was getting a mixed message, by being told that the roads should be a priority but not having enough money to make substantial improvements.
"I'm trying to move us in a direction that will translate into action and start to actually address the problem and not just worry and make people aware that we have a problem. We're aware that we have a problem, but we've done nothing really to address that going forward," Fredd said.
Lisio said that the only way to raise enough funds to start a road maintenance plan was to pass a Proposition 2 1/2 override, which she did not suggest because she said it would most likely not pass.
Selectman Colin McNabb said he would not be willing to vote for an override.
A one-time debt exclusion, Lisio said, wouldn't be enough to cover the problem.
"Everybody tells me that we would not get (an override), so I don't think we'd even want to ask for that, especially now. We've got some other big expenses coming down the pike, too. It's just not a good time," Lisio said.
Both selectmen, as well as Fredd and Sheehan, agreed that there was no easy fix for the town's deteriorating road system.
"Our roads didn't fall apart overnight, and we're not going to fix them overnight. It took decades of underinvesting in order for the roads to get in the condition they're in now, and it's going to take some years to bring them to the condition that we want them to be," Sheehan said.
By relying on dwindling state funding rather than investing town money in the roads, the problem was inevitable, Lisio said.
"I think the frugality that's come in this town for years, we've depended on Ch. 90 and patching here and patchng there, and now it's catching up with us," Lisio said.
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