Updated at 9 p.m. Tuesday:
Despite a plethora of potholes across the city, officials are eyeing a drastic cut in road repair money in the next municipal budget.
Officials say there expect some some debate about the proposal before the Board of Finance to slash $1 million from the requested $2.1 million road paving budget.
The spending plan that's on the table now would set the road paving program's budget at $1.1 million for the fiscal year that starts in July.
“I do have concerns” about the proposed cut, city Councilor Kevin McCauley said Tuesday, adding there may be “a battle to try to return” at least some of the funding before final passage of the spending plan.
“Would I like to have $2 million more to put into it? Absolutely,” said Mayor Art Ward.
But, he said, reducing the amount going to public works is “the only venue available to us” as officials scramble to try to freeze property taxes this year.
Ward said that he hopes federal stimulus cash may turn up that would allow more road work to get done.
The city budgeted as little as $1.2 million for road resurfacing as recently as 2006. But for its 2007 budget, officials hiked the figure by 51 percent to $1.8 million "to catch up deteriorating road conditions."
Former Mayor William Stortz pushed for more emphasis on infrastructure repairs, which he argued had been put off for too many years by City Hall leaders more interested in holding down taxes than taking care of roads and other public necessities.
By last year, the program's cost had risen to $2.1 million after officials said they would need that much to keep up a reasonable paving program that would ensure Bristol's 225 miles of public roads got the attention needed.
Public works would generally take it on the chin under the city's draft budget, losing $1 million in the road overlay account, $300,000 from its vehicle replacement request and $100,000 from its building maintenance allocation.
In the case of vehicles and building maintenance, the reductions amount to one third of the money sought in each category.
City Comptroller Glenn Klocko said that reaching the property tax freeze sought by officials preparing the budget would, at least at this point, be done "on the backs of public works."
"I don't want to hurt a department like that," Klocko said, but there's nowhere else to turn for the money.
Even after the public works and school cuts eyed by the Board of Finance, there remains a $1.8 million gap that appears most likely to be filled through union concessions or layoffs, or both.
During the last recession, the city's paving budget was as low as $400,000 in one year, though officials acknowledged it was too little to keep up with the need.
The city aims to resurface roads on a schedule that takes about two decades, but a lack of funding has made it impossible to meet that goal. It actually takes about 25 years to circle back around to a particular street, though adjustments are made to take into account that some roads need help sooner than others.
FYI: To read about pothole complaints, see this link and to learn more about potholes, see this story I wrote a few weeks back.
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