$1.5M for road repairs heads to Conway Special Town Meeting

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 11-24-2023 4:49 PM

CONWAY — With a Special Town Meeting weeks away, the Selectboard and Finance Committee have voted to recommend the town borrow up to $1.5 million to cover deficit spending as the town continues to repair roads that were damaged over the summer.

The boards determined borrowing the money would be the best course of action to cover the extraordinary costs left in the wake of downpours that dropped more than 21 inches of rain on the town throughout July — especially as any possibility of state aid is largely unknown at this point.

While there is no exact number on the damages, Finance Committee Chair Alan Singer said approving up to $1.5 million should provide a big enough cushion if costs continue to pile up. He added that Highway Superintendent Ron Sweet is estimating approximately $1 million would cover costs.

“We’re anticipating that we get — sometime in the next 12 months — something from the state; the timing and amount of which, remain unknown,” Singer said. “Ron, last week, was pretty adamant that a million would be sufficient.”

There was some discussion about if the town needed to borrow the whole amount if approved, but Treasurer/Collector Jan Warner said they can borrow it in whatever increments are needed. Additionally, the town is “not close to the debt limit.”

A similar process is also in the works in Deerfield, where residents at an October Special Town Meeting authorized borrowing up to $5 million for road repairs. Deerfield officials emphasized the borrowing will cover immediate road repairs, while also providing flexibility to cover further unanticipated costs. That borrowing will go to a special town election on Dec. 6.

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Conway Selectboard member Chris Waldo described the borrowing as like a “construction loan,” where the town can only borrow as much as it needs and then only pay interest on the amount borrowed, not the full amount authorized to be taken.

“That was my only apprehension. I didn’t want to pay extra interest on money we might not need,” Waldo said.

Selectboard Chair Philip Kantor said presenting the loan in that way requires the town to fully detail its plans, because residents are being asked to put their faith in town officials.

“My concern of this is from a public advocacy perspective at Town Meeting, when you’re asking for $1.5 million but you might not even think you need to borrow that full amount,” Kantor said. “There’s an element of, ‘Trust us, we won’t borrow the full amount if we don’t need too.’ … That can be a more difficult prospect.”

Countering that was fellow Selectboard member Erica Goleman, who said if they were to amend the borrowing amount to something like $500,000 or $1 million and it wasn’t enough to cover the costs, then voters would have to come together for another Special Town Meeting to authorize further borrowing, which also has some minor costs of its own.

Singer said being transparent about the town’s reasoning for borrowing money, as well as emphasizing where money is being spent in warrants, will go a long way toward making residents more comfortable with this.

“My thoughts are, it’s all about the execution, too. … The potential for pushback is more in the details and in execution than in the theory of borrowing,” Singer said. “I think we should go ahead and authorize up to a million and a half.”

With that, the Finance Committee has voted to recommend the article at Town Meeting by a vote of 3-0 — members Thomas Donovan and Rhyanna McLeester were absent — and the Selectboard unanimously voted to recommend it.

This article and eight others — although one is recommended to be tabled — will come before residents at Special Town Meeting on Saturday, Dec. 9, at 1 p.m. at the Conway Grammar School.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.