UPPER TOWNSHIP — The roads built for the township’s residential population boom in the mid-1980s are now 30 years old, setting the township up for an expensive and lengthy road repair project.
At a Township Committee workshop meeting Monday to go over the proposed budget, township engineer Paul Dietrich proposed spending $1.5 million this year on road repairs. That will mean about 5.4 miles of new road surface.
But the township should start planning for regular road repairs, he suggested, as residential streets built during the casino boom start to age and require repaving.
The workshop was the latest in a planned series of meetings the committee is holding to look for about $300,000 in cuts to the 2018 budget as proposed by the township department heads in hopes of heading off a tax rate increase this year.
The five-member Township Committee spent about an hour and a half discussing the budget, going over proposed spending in the finance department, the municipal court, and a proposed $4,000 line item for the township Green Team, as well as discussing the roadwork.
Committee expects to introduce a budget in March. As it stands, close to $12.5 million in spending is proposed for 2018. At a previous meeting, Committeeman John Coggins, who oversees revenue and finance, said the township would have to trim $291,000 from the spending proposals to avoid an increase of 1 cent per $100 of assessed value on the township tax rate.
Last year the owner of a home assessed at $300,000 paid about $513 a year to support the township’s $12.16 million budget, in addition to school, county and fire district taxes. A penny on the tax rate would cost that hypothetical homeowner between $30 and $40 a year.
Dietrich said at the workshop that the township should probably spend about $500,000 a year on roads. In previous years, he said, he has combined several projects to get a better price per mile on road repaving.
He cited projects in 2014 and 2016, in which the township spent just over $1 million and $1.4 million, respectively. The 2016 project repaved 5.5 miles, he said.
Dietrich cited the the extensive road construction undertaken in the 1980s.
“When we start to think about that generation of streets, that’s when the boom of streets were built in the township,” Dietrich said. “So we kind of have to keep up a pace of resurfacing and maintaining our infrastructure.”
He estimated there are about 10 miles of streets that need attention.
Committeeman Curtis Corson suggested that some elements of the road projects could legally be assessed to property owners. The township could oblige owners to directly fund some of the curbing work.
“A lot of that stuff, the township’s not obligated to do it,” Corson said.
“So how do you justify what has been done?” asked Mayor Rich Palombo. He said the homeowners on other streets the township has addressed have not seen that sort of assessment, and it would be unfair to the other homeowners to change the approach.
“I think we should stay consistent until we get through …” Palombo began, when Corson broke in, “Until what, we can’t afford to do it anymore? We’ve hit that point.”
Palombo seemed to suggest an opposite tack. He said the township has gotten excellent interest rates on previous bonds, and that it looks very likely that interest rates will soon rise. He said the township could get more roads done for less money if it takes advantage of the current low rates.
“I think we really need to evaluate that, because we can really get a better bang for the dollar from an interest standpoint,” Palombo said. “I don’t want to drive the township into debt, but we’ve been able to handle the bonds that we have so far.”
Committee members also questioned an expected increase in spending in the finance department, including spending on computer programs.
“Multiple offices need different programs,” said township finance officer Barbara Spiegel. “The construction office has one program. Finance, tax has another program. Engineering has another program.”
For instance, the Township Clerk has several computer programs that are required for record keeping.
Part of the spending proposal includes a contract to digitize township records. According to township administrator Scott Morgan, employees are literally running out of room in Township Hall to store the records they are legally required to keep.
He said having digital files will not only mean freeing up considerable space, but staff will be able to access files more quickly.
In the construction and planning and zoning office, files the township must retain for decades take up most of the room. Dietrich said the township proposes to have the files scanned in as digital files by an outside group, after which the paper files could be destroyed.
Corson questioned the $4,000 in the spending plan for the Upper Township Green Team, a volunteer group the township established in 2013 with the stated goal to make the township more sustainable, saying the township budgeted no funds for the organization in previous years.
According to Dietrich, the money would help with outreach, advertising and publicity for the team’s activities, including the summer farmers market.
Corson suggested putting information on the township website and putting out press releases instead of spending money.
“Most of it’s for print,” said Dietrich.
“So the Green Team actually wants to cut trees, turn them into print, and throw them away. OK, I can see this,” Corson said, laughing. “I want to save a tree.”
The next workshop on the budget proposal is set for 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 26 at Township Hall, 2100 Tuckahoe Road in Petersburg, to be followed by a regular meeting.