The Westerly Town Council has approved the town budget and once again the tax rate will rise just minimally. For a number of years there was no increase, an accomplishment that had to be doubly challenging based on the depths of the economy and increases in foreclosures and families struggling to pay taxes through layoffs, wage cuts, or stagnant salaries amid rising costs.
The slight increase proposed by the Board of Finance was made slightly higher at the 11th hour when the council on Wednesday added another $240,249 after two public hearings and just prior to accepting the spending plan. A portion of that last minute addition in spending was $75,000 for routine road repair in the operating budget, which brings that line item up to $500,000.
We doubt that we could find more than a handful of taxpayers who would oppose this addition. More likely we’re confident we could find many, many taxpayers willing to devote more of their money to this account.
In what is hardly a revelation or breaking news, we find it necessary to describe Westerly roads as nothing short of embarrassing. Dangerous and costly for drivers also come to mind.
Roadwork is expensive and if the funds aren’t there the road crew can’t do much about it.
Main Street has been a horror show for well over a year and has gotten significantly worse after this brutal winter. It makes for a rather uninviting gateway to town, and the Canal Street-Industrial Drive area remains something akin to a war zone.
Meanwhile the debacle that is Beach Street is a shared problem between the state, National Grid and the town. Soon after the long-awaited repaving project to repair Beach Street — after it had degenerated into something just above a rutted dirt road — the much-traveled roadway was dug up again by the utility company to locate and repair gas leaks. That project spread like a cancer farther and farther down Beach Street and now we’re back to a main artery that is one level above a rutted dirt road. The National Grid experience should serve as a teaching moment for all concerned in the form of better coordination for the replacement of ancient utility lines whenever a roadway is scheduled to undergo repaving.
The council talked Wednesday about another road bond — the town is in the midst of major projects funded by bonds approved in the recent past — instead of adding to the town’s operating budget, but that conversation should have started long ago. It’s gotten so bad that the council really needs to boost the issue of routine road maintenance to the top of the priority list. We would be shocked if there was not broad support for a significant road maintenance fund, well above the $500,000 allotted in the budget. The condition of our roads affects everyone from inexperienced teen drivers to the elderly. The state of many of our roads poses a danger and it is taking a toll on our cars, our ambulances, fire trucks and police cruisers. As for bikers, pedal powered and motorized, their risks are sure to be multiplied this season.