Council finds neighborhood interested in 50/50 split on road improvements

BURTON — The Burton City Council met Sept. 13 to discuss how to spend nearly $1.6 million it has set aside for local roads.

At the meeting, a resident from Maplewood Meadows came to the council with an offer – if she could get 51 percent of her neighborhood to sign a petition to have their streets paved by special assessment, would the city be willing to pay half the bill?

The proposition sparked council discussion which led to a possible solution for spending the city’s local street money – spend it in conjunction with funds through special assessments in those neighborhoods where a majority of residents want their streets repaved.

Resident Diane Diamond of Maplewood Meadows, located off Belsay Road between Bristol and Maple roads, said she has nearly half the signatures needed to pave her entire neighborhood, 346 homes in all, but asked the council to consider kicking in half the $1 million needed to repave those streets from the local street fund money.

“I know you have $1.6 million for roads,” said Diamond. “If the city would be willing to pay half, which would be about $426,000, you’d still have $1.1 million to spend in other neighborhoods. Maplewood Meadows is willing to put some skin in the game, but we want some kind of contribution from the city.”

The notion of splitting the cost with neighborhoods who wanted to pay their share of the repaving costs by special assessment went over well with the five council members present for the meeting, as well as the administration.

Charles Abbey, director of the Burton Department of Public Works, said he thinks it’s the right thing to do and the best way to maximize the city’s use of the $1.6 million is has set aside for local streets. For the sake of transparency, Abbey said he lives in Maplewood Meadows and was in favor of the special assessment for repaving.

“Clearly, I think the city should participate, but it will have to be on a first come, first serve basis,” he said. “We don’t know how much money we’re going to have from year to year. When they come in for a petition, we need to be able to say that money is gone, it was on a first come, first serve basis.”

Diamond said she needs 173 signatures to get the ball rolling and currently she said she’s at about half the number of signatures needed. She said she thinks a commitment from the city to pay a portion would mean more signatures on her petitions.

“Let the community invest in it, but let the city come in too,” she said. “So, our taxpayers feel like their tax dollars are actually going toward something that benefits them, otherwise I think what’s going to happen is you’re going to have a community that is angry and says ‘where are those tax dollars going? Why don’t we get something for that which benefits us’?”

If enough signatures are gathered, the streets in Maplewood Meadows could be paved at a cost of $2,700 per home, payable through a special assessment. However, if the city agrees to a 50/50 match, the amount per household would be cut in half.

Abbey said the time of year has an impact on that cost. He said this is the perfect time to start such a project because if the signatures were all gathered and submitted during the fall, engineering plans and costs could be done over the winter and be ready for bidding in the spring.

Councilman Vaughn Smith said whatever percentage was decided would have to be used across the board with all petitioners who seek to have their roads paved and it would be on a first come, first serve basis – which means when the money runs out for the year, there would be no more until the next year.

The council also will not be able to guarantee the among of money it has available from year-to-year.

“It would have to be a standard offer until the money is spent,” said Smith. “This might create a sense of urgency with the residents.”

He said the city will have to set deadlines, adding he thinks the timing is good because winter in approaching and that gives people time to strategize how they’re going to get this done in their neighborhoods.

“We give them deadlines. After that deadline, if there’s still money left in that pot, then we can apply it another way into local streets,” said Smith. “I think this is a showcase opportunity for us.”

Abbey said he thinks if it is successful, other neighborhoods will follow.

Councilman Tom Martinbianco said he was in support of such a plan but reminded the council to be cognizant of financial projections going forward.

He said the city’s 5-year projection summary shows the fund balance in 2023 will be $1.1 million, then in 2024 it’s $833,000 and in 2027, the projected fund balance is just $89,000.

“Five years a long time, but it wasn’t that long ago when we were facing financial straits and now you’ve got folks like these who want to come forward and shoulder some of the financial burden to the extent we can help,” said Martinbianco. “I totally agree with it and with the idea of keeping a good neighborhood good.”

Abbey said it costs more than $1 million per mile for a full lane reconstruction or local streets.

“It’s only going to get more expensive…so if you’ve got an opportunity now, I would strongly urge, and this administration would, that we take advantage of it and try to preserve some of our neighborhoods, because we don’t know what the future holds,” said Abbey.

Smith agreed this may be one-time money to be used for one-time things, so if the city can take $1.6 million and turn into $3 million, he called that “phenomenal.”

“I’m all for this 50/50 match. This is going to get around, and as it gets around, I think it’s going to impact other areas,” said Smith. “It’s going to be a very positive impact.”

City Attorney Amanda Doyle discussed legal language at the council’s Sept. 20 meeting and said the plan that could be put to residents is streets rated a 5 or lower by the city (1 being the worst, 10 being the best) could qualify for the 50/50 split and funding would be on a first come basis.

She said the DPW will be putting that into the form of a notice to go out to the residents so they would know the plan is available.

“If they take advantage of that, they have to follow specific steps,” she said. “There has to be engineering done, a petition, all of these things done before they get to (the council).”

At that point, the council decides what, if anything, it will contribute to that project, said Doyle.