Council splits on Old County Road bondState claims lack of funding; two councilors disagree, want to fight the state
Rockland — After meeting with state engineers concerning potential state assistance in fixing Old County Road April 7, a split City Council voted to go ahead with asking taxpayers to approve a $1.6 million bond for the project.
The council voted 3-2 with Councilors Elizabeth Dickerson and Louise MacLellan-Ruf opposed to approve the bond ordinance. Voters will decide in June whether to approve borrowing the money toward a road project that could cost $2.3 million with some assistance from the Maine Department of Transportation.
A public hearing will be held Wednesday, April 23 on the proposal.
The councilors questioned whether the road was the state's responsibility or that of the city during the meeting. There to help answer their questions were Andrew Hedrich from Gartley & Dorsky Engineering, Mike Burns and Jamie Andrews from the transportation department.
While it is a state aid road, as far back as the 1950s, the city entered into an agreement to share responsibility for the road with the state, according to the DOT engineers. The state is responsible for "capital work," major reconstruction projects, improvements and repairs. The city is responsible for maintenance, which can include surface repaving.
The transportation department employees stressed the state has a limited amount of money to spend on road improvement projects. It places the highest priority on major corridors such as Route 1, where it is spending $10 million in Warren and Thomaston. The priority is based on how much the road is used, not its level of disrepair, they said.
Under the proposed partnership with the state, the state would provide $500,000 per year per project, and possibly more.
Dickerson, who also serves as a state legislator, argued the state funding for important road projects has become a problem under the present administration because it frowns upon borrowing and using bonds for funding.
In response to a state official saying, "We just honestly don't have the money," MacLellan-Ruf retorted: "We don't have the money either."
"It's Rockland that is getting short-changed," MacLellan-Ruf argued.
She asked what would happen if Rockland imposed weight limits and slower speed limits on the road, discouraging truck traffic. Many in the community feel the road is used for large trucks supplying the Wal-Mart in Thomaston.
State officials said the road has to be open to all because it is a state aid road. Any speed limits or weight limits would come from the state not the city.
MacLellan-Ruf pointed out it was a state road when it came to that, but when it came to funding repairs, it is a city problem.
Councilor Eric Hebert said he is concerned about Rockland getting stuck with the bill when a lot of people who use the road do not live in the city. He said the plan to partner with the state makes sure at least part of the cost is not from city taxpayers.
Dickerson said there is an election in November, and the state's stance on bonds for road projects could change after that. Hebert argued the city should not wait for political winds to shift in Augusta to do needed projects.
Dickerson continued to argue, saying the city is already losing population due to the high property taxes. "We need to dig our heels in, say no, uh-uh," she said. She sees this as the city assuming the cost for something that is not its responsibility.
Courier Publications News Director Daniel Dunkle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 594-4401 ext. 122.
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Daniel Dunkle is editor of The Courier-Gazette and news director for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife, Christine, who also works for Courier Publications, and two children.
Dunkle has previously served as editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. He has worked as a reporter and photographer in the Midcoast since 1998.