West Tisbury selectmen diverge on scope of road repair


West Tisbury selectmen voted 2-1 at their regular meeting last week to ask voters at town meeting to spend $2.615 million to resurface most of the town’s roadways, many of which are in disrepair.

Town treasurer Kathy Logue first presented selectmen with the plan at their regular meeting February 15, explaining that doing all the road repairs now — instead of spreading the repairs out over several years — will likely save the town money. She said the cost of asphalt and the cost of borrowing are both expected to increase substantially in the coming years.

Ms. Logue presented selectmen with two possible debt schedules, one to spend $2,550,000 to repair all the roads and another to spend $1.4 million to repair the roads most in need, for instance Lambert’s Cove Road and Middle Road. Both plans would spread the debt service out over 15 years.

Up until recently, the town could only borrow for road repairs over a five-year term, but the law was recently changed, allowing them to borrow money over 15 years.

Highway superintendent Richard Olsen presented the plan to spend the higher amount to the capital improvement planning committee, although that committee hasn’t taken a position on the plan.

At their meeting on February 15, selectmen focused their discussion on the plan to spend the larger amount. But at their meeting on February 22, selectman Richard Knabel said he was reluctant to spend such a large sum.

Mr. Knabel said he agreed there were many town roads in desperate need, but he said more discussion may be required. “Two-and-a-half million dollars is a lot of money,” he said. “It isn’t the amount of money this town spends often on one project, or easily.”

Mr. Knabel said selectmen should have gotten more information on the plan before putting it on the warrant. “I would have thought…that we would have a presentation from the highway superintendent, or hear from the capital improvements committee, or see some charts that are easy to understand about what the costs are, and what the alternatives might be, and have a broader discussion in front of the television cameras…, [but] that didn’t happen and that is what I find disturbing,” he said.

Mr. Knabel said he preferred a plan to spend less. “My feeling is we should have taken a close look at doing only the roads in greatest need, that’s what I hoped we could do last week,” he said. “I have the feeling there wasn’t any room for maneuvering, but if there is, I think that is a better way to go.”

Selectman Cynthia Mitchell cited capital improvement plans from the town reports of recent years, all of which described a long-term plan to repair all the town roads. As each year goes by, she said, the road repairs get more expensive.

“The plan is already in place,” Ms. Mitchell said. “The only question is how much to put into the plan now. If due to borrowing costs…we can spend the same amount of money and get it all done, or get most of it done, that is why [Richard Olsen] went to the capital improvements committee.”

Town administrator Jen Rand said the town financial team has reviewed the two plans and agreed the town could save money by doing all the roads now. She noted the chart outlining the plan to repair fewer roads does not address the fact that the remaining roads still need repairs.

“What I think probably everyone can agree on is we will never see the cost of borrowing so low again, so best case scenario this chart looks identical to this one if we do the second half as we promised in five years,” Ms. Rand. “Worst case scenario is we have an unknown . . . and it goes up. This [other chart] doesn’t show the other roads. We can’t do better than this, in our opinion.”

Town assessor Kristina West said selectmen should put the plan to voters. “We really don’t see any reason why you wouldn’t let the townspeople decide,” Ms. West said. “It’s really up to them to spend all that money this year.”

Ms. Mitchell said repairing all the roads now should be viewed as an opportunity to save money in the long run. “The number…sounds like a lot to borrow,” she said. “Where two years ago we could only borrow money for roads for a five-year term, now the law has changed and we can borrow for 15 years at a lower rate if we bond soon. It is something that needs to be explained and presented at town meeting.”

Chairman Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter said time was of the essence. “I am a big fan of getting roads repaired,” he said. “I think some of these roads are such poor shape they won’t last three to four years.”

At the request of Mr. Olsen, selectmen agreed to add additional funding to the original figure of $2,550,000, and voted 2-1 to place an article on the town meeting warrant to spend $2,615,000 for road repairs, and authorize the town to borrow funds for the project.

Mr. Knabel cast the dissenting vote.