GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

June 17, 2013

State delay snags city plans for paving

From Staff and Wire Reports
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick’s decision to withhold half of the funding approved by the Legislature for local road repairs is putting a strain on his administration’s relationship with municipal officials who can’t understand why the governor would balk at needed transportation improvements.

Secretary of Administration and Finance Glen Shor reiterated last week that the administration intends to wait until the House and Senate finalize a transportation financing plan with new tax revenue to decide whether to release an additional $150 million for Chapter 90 road repairs — the second half of a $300 million local street and roadway package that has already been approved by both the state House and Senate chambers.

“Depending on the final disposition of the transportation financing plan, it may be possible to release additional funding for either the fall or the [2014] spring construction season,” Shor said during a meeting of the Local Government Advisory Commission.

But that prospect is not sitting well with local officials, including Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk.

Gloucester is targeted to receive a little over $1 million through the full package, while the Cape Ann towns of Rockport, Essex and Manchester are pegged to get more than $200,000 apiece, for a $1.78 million Cape Ann total.

The governor’s handling of the funding — and the delay in releasing any of the aid, which just came late last month means that each community will get half of its allocation toward a constructiion season that already should have been well under way, Kirk and other officials say.

“The impact locally is we will end up paving in the absolute peak time of the season,” Kirk said. “Instead of paving in April and May, we’ll be paving in July and August, and that’s a major inconvenience for every visitor and resident.”

That’s similar to what happened last year Kirk said, when the release of the funding was delayed on Beacon Hill.

But the holding back of half the approved allocation is likely to prompt delays in its own right, Kirk said.

“We won’t spend more than what has been released — I don’t believe in taking that gamble,” said Kirk, noting that most of the prioritized work at this point is in road paving.

“We wouldn’t shortcut it, we would just postpone (some of the work) so that roads that would get paved this year may not get paved until next year.”

That, in turn, would drive up the cost of the city’s overall street and road funding for next year, she noted.

“It impacts every single resident in Gloucester,” Kiork said. “We’ll get $500,000, and we’ll look at our priorities list — but again, even what does get done we’ll be doing in July and August, and that’s the worst time.”

Gloucester’s situation is hardly alone.

The Patrick administration’s position didn’t sit well with many municipal officials who attended a briefing on the issue last week, and said they couldn’t understand why the governor would not only withhold the $100 million increase in Chapter 90 approved by the Legislature, but also cut back on funding by $50 million from this year’s funding level of $200 million.

“I have to register with you a real sense of disappointment, confusion, bewilderment, a level of upsetness in terms of where we are today versus where we thought we were a few weeks ago,” Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan told Shor. “Instead of a 50 percent increase, we get a 25 percent u-turn and it’s frustrating. It’s very frustrating.”

Patrick last week signed a bill setting the terms for borrowing $300 million to finance the state’s local road repair program, but has said he will only release $150 million now as he waits to see how much new revenue will be included for roads, highways, bridges and public transit in the tax financing bill being negotiated between the House and Senate.

North Adams City Councilor Lisa Blackmer said her city has a structural deficit and cannot make up for the funding promised by the Legislature and being held back by Patrick.

She said North Adams will — like Gloucester — have to delay repair projects and the jobs that construction could create this summer.

“We’ve been neglected due to the Big Dig and other money sent to Boston for other projects,” Blackmer said.

Massachusetts Municipal Association Executive Director Geoff Beckwith disputed Shor’s suggestion that former Lt. Gov. Tim Murray had foreshadowed the staged released of Chapter 90 funding a month early, telling Shor they had no idea funding would be cut below fiscal 2013 levels.

“This is urgent with every passing day,” Beckwith said.