Amherst's $15m road bond gets test drive

AMHERST – Selectmen may support a $15 million road repair bond, after all.

The bond, which officials say would be the biggest in town since the $12 million bond for Souhegan High School was passed in 1990, had faced an uphill climb until last week’s selectmen’s meeting, when a majority of the board reversed earlier positions and said they could support it over several smaller bonds for the same work spread out over a period of years.

Selectmen are expected to decide on the road bond at their meeting today.

Time is growing tight to polish the budget and warrant articles because the town’s bond and budget hearing is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 19. Residents will vote on any road bond, along with the budget and other warrant articles, in March.

Three selectmen changed their minds about the road bond after hearing more information from the Road Funding Analysis Committee.

The majority of selectmen said a single, $15 million bond made sense because of current low interest rates and falling material prices, as well as the lower transaction cost for a single bond.

The committee presented three options to the board: A 20-year bond for $15 million; three, 15-year bonds spaced two years apart in the following amounts – $6 million, $6 million and $3 million; or five, 15-year bonds in five consecutive years in the following order: $4 million, $3 million, $3 million, $3 million, and $2 million.

If all the bonds were to pass in any of the scenarios, maximum tax impact would be about the same – roughly $300 per year for the owner of a $400,000 home.

The committee did not recommend any specific option.

Amherst has about 23 miles of roadway that needs to be reconstructed.

The roads have been neglected for years to the point where it makes more sense to rebuild some of them instead of just patching in problem areas, road committee members said.

Even supporters of the bond admitted it will be hard to get voters to approve a huge bond in tight economic times.

“It’s going to be a tough sell,” said selectmen’s Chairman Bruce Bowler.

“We are going to have to sell it.”

At the start of the meeting, Selectman Reed Panasiti was the only board member in favor of the large bond option.

However, Bowler and selectmen George Infanti and Tom Grella, who previously supported a series of smaller bonds, all joined with Panasiti.

Selectman Brad Galinson remained opposed to the single bond because he said it is unlikely to be approved by voters.

He called it the “absolute most irresponsible” choice if selectmen want the roads fixed.

“I feel it guarantees we get no money for the roads,” said Galinson.

But Bowler said smaller bonds were problematic because the residents who get their road fixed in the first bond would be unlikely to support later bonds.