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Andover residents turn down bond request for road, bridge repairs

Andover residents last night defeated a $1 million bond request to repair roads and bridges, a plan selectmen insisted would save the town hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next decade.

The town voted, 96-80, to scrap the proposal. It needed a two-thirds majority to pass.

The bond would have paid for multiple projects, including road repairs, ditch and drainage work, and bridge replacements. Victoria Mishcon, chairwoman of the board of selectmen, said four bridges in town need attention. One, on Gale Road, is in such disrepair that engineers have warned it is in danger of plunging into the river, she said.

As proposed, the bond would have been paid off over seven years in annual $158,000 installments. In a flier circulating before the meeting, the board said bundling the projects would save an estimated $572,000 over 10 years. It would cost $1.10 million to do the project with the bond, and $1.67 million to do them individually in that time, they said. Selectmen said they hoped to take advantage of low interest rates and potential discounts from construction companies.

But a half-dozen residents derided the plan as slapdash and imprudent.

“The selectmen want you to spend a ton of money on engineering when you could do it a lot cheaper in-house,” said Jeffrey Miller.

Andrew Guptill, a former selectman, said he is typically an “advocate for investing in our roads,” but he’s against the proposal, because it did little to address the real deficiency – a long-term road maintenance plan.

Without that, Guptill said, they “might as well burn the money.”

Duncan Coolidge, a selectman, responded that the bonded work would offset future maintenance costs. Moreover, he said the town has a history of not following through on promised projects.

“We have a proven track record for failing on that end,” Coolidge said. “We have not spent the requisite money on bridges. We have not spent the money on roads. We have not spend the money on maintenance. This is about changing that system.”

Alex Bernhard, a resident, said he trusted the selectmen and the more than four months of research they had put into the proposal.

“I haven’t heard anybody really questioning the need for the work,” Bernhard said. “We have a need, that I think we have a consensus that it needs to be met,” he continued. “We have given to us by the people we elected a plan for meeting that need. If we walk away from this meeting tonight not having met that need, it’s unclear when and how we address it.”

Meanwhile, residents approved a $1.38 million town operating budget, up $74,000 from the 2013 budget. One voter suggested eliminating a line item for uses such as transporting elderly adults, but his motion was resoundingly defeated.

“I for one hate my tax bill, but when it goes for something like that, I don’t mind paying,” Toby Locke said.

Voters also passed a $25,000 request to purchase a new police cruiser. The town has four cruisers, but two of them are old and in need of repairs, said police Chief Glenn Laramie. Voters also backed a request to open a savings account for the eventual replacement of the Lawrence Street bridge and add $200,000 to it this year.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @Jblackmancm.)

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