When city councilors endorsed the $159,000 widening of Center Street last week, they thought the state was picking up the tab.
The money is actually coming entirely from city coffers, part of a 2004 bond package that also included the North Main Street streetscape project, according to David Bertnagel, the city’s chief accountant.
The only councilors to oppose the project, Democrat Kevin McCauley, said that because decision-makers “were erroneously informed at the City Council meeting that this allocation was from the state funds, I have asked the mayor and City Council to bring forth this issue at the next opportunity for reconsideration as we can discuss it openly again.”
Republican city Councilor Mike Rimcoski said he agreed on the need for a special meeting.
“I will come to it with my ax all sharpened, ready to cut off somebody’s head,” Rimcoski said Monday
“There are very few things I cannot tolerate,” Rimcoski said, and one of them “is being outright lied to.
He said that if officials were unsure of the answer, they should have said so rather than misleading the council, even if it wasn’t done deliberately.
Public Works Director Walter Veselka, who told councilors the money was coming from the state, said Monday that he thought it was.
“If I’m proved incorrect, then so be it,” Veselka said.
Several officials who tried to untangle the issue Monday said that money for downtown projects generally comes out of a pool of cash that once included $2 million from the state and $2.2 million from the city. Much of that has been spent already, though, and it can be unclear where any particular allocation originated.
It turned out, though, that the Center Street widening was specifically included in the 2004 bond package so it is entirely city money, not state cash.
Bertnagel said he can understand why officials got confused.
McCauley said “a better expenditure of city funds” would be to cover the cost of some major road projects that had been budgeted but got cut in the city’s rush to save money this year.
Bertnagel said, however, that the bond money can’t be shifted to some other use.
“We can’t just automatically use that money for another project,” Bertnagel said. He said if the city decided not to do the project, it would have to repay the bondholders, not shift the spending to another project.
Jonathan Rosenthal, the city’s economic development director, said the Center Street project was on the list created years ago for necessary downtown improvement.
He said it hasn’t been a priority recently, but does have the backing of the Bristol Development Authority.
Veselka said that when the design was first proposed, the idea was to add a right turn only lane for Center Street traffic turning onto North Main Street. But a traffic study found it would help more to make a left turn only lane instead.
That design was finished this year, Veselka said, and sent out for bids.
The council last week agreed to award the contract to the Vernon-based VMS Construction Co.
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