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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Nashua mayor calls for special road and highway fund

NASHUA – Mayor Donnalee Lozeau detailed her plan Monday to move $2 million into a special revenue fund for road work, saying the change would allow the city to address maintenance needs and begin developing a comprehensive plan for the future.

Lozeau is asking the Board of Aldermen to pass legislation creating a new Special Road and Highway Fund for paving and road work. The new fund is integral to Lozeau’s budget proposal for fiscal 2015, which moves all funding for road repairs into the new fund. ...

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NASHUA – Mayor Donnalee Lozeau detailed her plan Monday to move $2 million into a special revenue fund for road work, saying the change would allow the city to address maintenance needs and begin developing a comprehensive plan for the future.

Lozeau is asking the Board of Aldermen to pass legislation creating a new Special Road and Highway Fund for paving and road work. The new fund is integral to Lozeau’s budget proposal for fiscal 2015, which moves all funding for road repairs into the new fund.

Lozeau said the Board of Public Works has long identified paving needs as a concern, but trying to find a solution for the problem has been “a challenge at best.”

Her proposal calls for appropriating $1,347,000 worth of state highway block grant money in the new fund in the coming fiscal year, coupled with $700,000 worth of revenue from motor vehicle fees.

While many aldermen agree road work should be a priority, some have questioned the necessity of creating a new special revenue fund to increase appropriations. Alderman-at-Large Dan Moriarty recently detailed his concerns that creating the fund will move the money outside of the city’s spending cap.

Special revenue funds are often self-sustaining and don’t figure into the spending cap, which ties the growth in government spending to inflation.

Lozeau denied Monday that her proposal is an attempt to circumvent the cap, explaining that funding would come from state highway money and motor vehicle revenue – pools of taxpayer money that have already been collected.

“From my perspective, here are two funds that are already paid with by user fees – toll revenue, gas tax, motor vehicle permits,” she said.

When she took office in 2008, Lozeau said the city was typically budgeting $700,000 per year for road work. Revenues came in higher than expected that first year, and she oversaw an increase in the budget line item, bringing it to $1.5 million. Escrows the following year helped increase the amount to about $1.7 million.

However, at the same time, the cost of asphalt rose significantly, and the city was spending more and paving less. Lozeau said a recent assessment pegged the city’s needs at a minimum of $4 million per year to keep the roads in good shape.

Lozeau proposes using about $47,000 to buy updated software to help the city plan its infrastructure repairs and to hire staff to develop a long-term repair plan. The Board of Public Works is scheduled to discuss those items at an upcoming meeting.

Lozeau said a long-term plan will help the city explore options such as bonding to pay for major projects, such as fixing up the Daniel Webster Highway. In Bedford, she said, town officials have bonded millions of dollars to pay for virtually all repair needs.

While Nashua’s solution will likely be different, she said developing a comprehensive strategy will be an important step to address the city’s challenges.

“I think there’s a combination of things that we should be doing,” she said.

During a public hearing Monday on Lozeau’s proposal, former Nashua aldermen Fred Teeboom spoke in favor of the concept. Teeboom said special revenue funds have merit when they take user funds and put them aside for correlating purposes.

“Putting money into a special revenue fund for a special purpose is a good thing to do, as long as you don’t collapse it to pay something else in case you have a deficit,” he said.

Lozeau’s proposed fiscal 2015 budget calls for a 2.2 percent increase, growing the general fund by about $5 million compared to the current budget, increasing the figure to $241.2 million.

The mayor’s proposal would come in below the city’s spending cap and would translate into a tax increase of less than 3 percent.

The city will hold a public hearing for Nashua residents to weigh in on all aspects of the fiscal 2015 budget Monday at 7 p.m. at Nashua High School North.

Jim Haddadin can be reached at 594-6589 or jhaddadin@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Haddadin on Twitter (@Telegraph_JimH).