Town seeks $3M bond for roads

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday OK’d a 2011 Town Meeting Day warning that includes a request for a 20-year, $3 million bond issue to take care 17 different road improvement projects that might otherwise linger on the drawing board.
Officials stressed they would not seek to repay the bond issue through a property tax increase. Rather, they are proposing to pay down the bond debt with funds Middlebury already budgets annually for capital improvements.
“It is a way to get a little bit of a jump on these projects that need to be done” in a more compressed timeframe, Middlebury Town Manager Bill Finger said of the bond.
It’s a strategy Middlebury has already employed.
Just last July, Middlebury residents approved an identical $3 million bond to chip away at a mounting backlog of needed repairs to the town’s water system infrastructure. The backlog of projects was created by town officials’ decision to apply a substantial portion of Middlebury’s water fund balance toward upgrades near the Cross Street Bridge project while the ground in that area was still ripped up by construction. This has meant that other projects had to be delayed.
Finger and Middlebury Director of Operations Dan Werner explained that some of those water projects are now ready to go, but should logically dovetail with some complementary road projects while the sites are dug up.
The proposed bonded highway work, slated for the next four construction seasons, would involve paving, ditching — and in come cases sidewalk, curbing and drainage upgrades — to sections of Buttolph Drive, Rolling Acres, South Street, Painter Road, Grey Ledge, Stuart Lane, Juniper Lane, South Gorham Road, Creek Road, Quarry Road, Duane Court, School House Hill Road, Foote Street, Green Mountain Place, Seminary Street Extension and Seymour Street.
Joe Colangelo, Middlebury’s assistant town manager, said the town could get an interest rate of around 4.5 percent for the bond issue.
Middlebury Selectman Dean George is chairman of the town’s public works committee. He said he believes the town could responsibly absorb the added debt load for the highway projects.
“We are in pretty good shape,” George told his colleagues on Tuesday.
“To me, it makes good sense,” selectboard Chairman John Tenny said of the bond.
The board will spend the coming weeks bringing the public up to speed on the proposed highway bond. The proposal will be discussed at the annual town meeting on Monday, Feb. 28, prior to the Australian ballot vote on Tuesday, March 1.
Other items on the town meeting warning include:
• The proposed 2011-2012 town spending plan of $8,265,365, a 1.6 percent increase over the current year.
• A request to borrow up to $226,400 over five years to replace two police cruisers and related equipment; one single-axle, medium-duty plow truck and related equipment; and one rotary mower attachment.
• A request to rescind the usual penny raised each year on the tax rate to generate money for Middlebury’s conservation fund. For the third year in a row, the Battell Trust has agreed to contribute that sum (from telecommunications tower rental income on Chipman Hill) as a way of stabilizing the town’s tax rate.
• A petitioned request that the town appropriate $5,000 to support the Middlebury-based Addison County Humane Society’s programs.
In other action on Tuesday, the Middlebury selectboard unanimously approved an interim zoning rule that will allow greater flexibility in the conversion of office space into residential apartments (as a conditional use) in the office/apartment, village-residential-commercial and central business district zones. Zoning in those areas currently allows one apartment unit per 10,000 square feet of lot size. This has made it difficult for some property owners to convert a long-vacant office unit into an apartment. Plans call for the interim zoning rule to be incorporated in the 2012 town plan update.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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