Amherst councilors wary of road funds fall-off in 2025 capital budget

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By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 07-05-2024 7:39 PM

AMHERST — As $2.75 million in road and sidewalk projects continue throughout town this summer, members of the Town Council are worried that there will be significantly less financial resources available in 2025 to resurface streets and fix sidewalks.

Of the $4.3 million in capital spending approved for fiscal 2025 at the June 24 Town Council meeting, $1.34 million is set aside for road repair and resurfacing in the capital plan prepared by Town Manager Paul Bockelman. The rest of the capital money for next year is earmarked for equipment, buildings and facilities.

The $1.34 million is based on a combination of $500,000 in cash capital and $841,883 in state Chapter 90 money. That’s well short of the fiscal 2024 appropriation, when $1.35 million from cash capital was combined with an almost equal amount of state Chapter 90 aid.

District 1 Councilor Cathy Schoen said she wondered if town officials could reallocate or shift some of the $4.3 million for other projects back into roads, observing that some of these can wait, such as the $150,000 to demolish the deteriorating former clubhouse at Hickory Ridge Golf Course or the $51,500 allocation to upgrade the IT system at the Jones Library. Schoen said the clubhouse could remain standing for another year and the IT wouldn’t be needed if the expansion and renovation project of the 43 Amity St. building gets underway early next year.

District 3 Councilor George Ryan agreed that more money needs to go to road repairs, saying he’s dismayed the town is putting up only $500,000 for roads. He’s already informed Bockelman about his concerns about the long wait to have all streets improved.

“As he knows, I’ll be 108 years old when we finally do catch up with the backlog, so I’m kind of hoping that maybe we could think of ways to put money into that,” Ryan said.

Bockelman said roads are a high priority and agrees that more money could be targeted for their improvement, but cautioned that even if more money is in place, that would need to be absorbed into a management plan. There are questions about whether there is enough staff to handle this work.

“The challenge we have, quite frankly, is the money we already have in the pipeline,” Bockelman said.

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According to the capital plan memo approved by the Joint Capital Planning Committee and recommended by the Finance Committee, the “work may include shimming, maintenance overlays, localized pavement repairs, traffic signal repairs or upgrades due to damage or wear, sidewalk repairs, guard rails, drainage repairs and/or any other roadway defect. These repairs may or may not be on the 5-year pavement plan.”

The capital plan also includes $190,048 for addressing problems with sidewalks.

At Large Councilor Andy Steinberg supported his colleagues and noted that budget votes are one of the few times for councilors to talk about road funding.

“I think Councilor Ryan is absolutely correct that we have a huge problem with roads,” Steinberg said.

But he said he is not convinced that Amherst will ever get all roads done, since roads always deteriorate in the New England climate.

Steinberg said one possibility is to better scrutinize transfers of free cash when unanticipated money comes in.

“I think it’s important every year that we look at the free cash as a potential for additional road money,” Steinberg said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.