Proposed budget must fully address infrastructure needs

On Monday, March 20, Town Manager Robert Geiger presented his proposed budget for fiscal 2017–2018.

The budget, as presented by Geiger, is $33,438,506.

Geiger’s budget proposes an increase of $337,332 from the town’s fiscal 2016–2017 budget of $33,101,174.

If passed, Geiger said that the mill rate will remain the same from last year at 33.7.

As part of the budget, Geiger is proposing $1,956,412 in capital improvements, including $1,441,000 in road repairs.

Because formulating the budget is still in preliminary stages, we cannot ask residents to support or go against the budget. It will take weeks for the selectmen to finalize any budget to go before the voters.

However, as the selectmen consider the proposed budget, we can ask town leaders to consider the significant needs of Winsted’s infrastructure and roads.

Back in June, local company Lenard Engineering completed a report on road conditions, which included an analysis of all 76 miles of asphalt roads owned by the town.

The report concluded that 53 percent of the town’s asphalt roads are in poor or failed condition.

While the company suggested appropriating $1 million a year to keep up with deterioration across the road network, the company strongly recommended that the town increase the annual investment in road maintenance to $2 million a year for at least the next 10 years, which would more quickly improve the overall condition of the town’s road network and would reduce the costs related to the backlog of road projects.

While $1,441,000 is, indeed, a start in the right direction for funding road repairs, the town must eventually bite the bullet and find a way to fund the full $2 million.

If the town continues funding road repairs partially instead of fully, the roads will continue to deteriorate and the backlog of road repairs will grow to a point where there will be no way for the town to catch up.

Furthermore, the price of road repair and construction materials does not get lower as time goes by. Waiting longer and longer to fund full road repairs will mean that the $2 million a year estimate will increase substantially to an amount that the town will not be able to afford in any economy.

A major contributor to  current road conditions throughout town is the “No New Taxes” crowd that has campaigned, and sometimes bullied, both residents and politicians not to increase tax rates.

Due to years of these campaigns, the town has not been able to afford infrastructure investments, including road repairs.

Even if the town cannot figure out a way to fully fund road repairs for the fiscal 2017–2018 budget, eventually, as hard as it might be, it will have to find a way.

As town residents have learned with the deterioration of several roads and bridges in town, putting off infrastructure investments for years does much more harm than any good.