Bond would help Harrison accelerate road project work

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

HARRISON — As a “numbers person,” Matt Frank has taken a very close look at a proposal to seek a bond to put Harrison on a faster track in tackling its capital road projects.

He feels the time is right to strike.

“Interest rates are very low right now. It is hard for them to go lower. So, it makes it a good time to borrow. I look at the price of gasoline. I don’t know what gasoline will be two, three, four years from now, but I am prepared to say it is relatively low right now,” said Frank, chairman of the Harrison Board of Selectmen during last Thursday’s meeting. “If it is low, it is the basic building block of asphalt. If you ask for a bigger chunk, will they give you a better price? In my experience in virtually everything, it’s true. Do I know where interest rates are going to be three years from now or what oil prices will be, no. I am making an educated guess — from my perspective — this is the right time to do this.”

There was no dissension regarding taking the bond question to voters this November, and selectmen last Thursday were quick to decide to move the five-year, $1,375,000 package, and not the seven-year, $2 million proposal.

Selectman Bill Winslow believes the issue to bond or not should be settled by voters.

“I don’t like to borrow money, so I made the motion to borrow the smaller amount,” Winslow said.

Board Chairman Matt Frank simply responded, “Same here.”

A public hearing on the bond proposal will be held prior to the November election.

While the town will look at seeking a bond either through the Bond Bank or other lending institutions, Town Manager Bud Finch expects interest over the five years to be $62,500, “which would be more than offset by the gains in bidding out the larger projects together while the price of pavement and cost of doing business is down.”

Payments would average about $287,489 per year, and would be deducted from the $500,000 raised annually for six years for Capital Roads. From a budgeting standpoint, Finch will shoot for “tax neutrality,” knowing one of the first questions taxpayers will ask regarding this road project strategy is whether their taxes will go up, if the bond is approved.

The remaining $213,000 would be used to continue work on “smaller” projects, which includes ditching and culvert replacement. A major key to keeping roads in solid shape, Finch said, is to keep water off and away.

Finch recommended the five-year proposal, thus avoiding higher interest rates and interest owed.

“I am comfortable that over the next five years, our budget will remain relatively flat,” Finch said. “With this bond, we can get a lot of work done and bring our 20-year plan into focus. Future paving jobs will be strictly maintenance and not tearing the roads up. That savings, in itself, is significant.”

Through the bond and local money raised for Capital Road Work over the next six years, Harrison will have $4,375,000 earmarked for major road projects. Finch reiterated that if approved, voters will finally “dig Harrison out of a road maintenance hole” that started growing in the early 2000s when asphalt prices skyrocketed and road improvement budgets remained stagnant.

The infusion of $4.3 million will set Harrison on a path that will allow the town to catch up and then be in a position to focus on general maintenance and preventative measures.

The idea is to capitalize on low asphalt and paving costs, while also realizing big savings by bidding out sizable road projects (such as Maple Ridge, which is broken up into four pieces — 2.25, 1.13, 1.01 and .62 miles — based upon work that needs to be undertaken) that will likely take two years to complete. Major roads, which are used by emergency personnel and serve as frequent travel routes, will be primary targets.

“I believe this opportunity needs to be brought forward,” Finch said. “If the townspeople vote it down, that’s fine, but it’s going to take us more years to get there and at a larger cost.”

When resident Rick Sykes asked if there were any “negatives” or “unintended consequences” attached to the bond idea, Selectman Ray LaPlante noted, “No one has a crystal ball. No one knows what is going to happen after the election in terms of our relationships with these (oil bearing) countries. It is a reasonable question — unanswerable.”

Finch added, “I don’t have a great burning desire to borrow money either, but I believe we can hold the mil rate relatively flat for five years — it’s doable.”

If approved, the town would be ready to take its projects out to bid in spring 2017.

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