Andover road department changes nixed

Last modified: 3/9/2011 12:00:00 AM
Andover residents last night defeated proposals to expand their highway operation, deciding against purchasing a backhoe loader or allowing their selectmen to hire a full-time road agent.

The town currently elects a road agent and rents a backhoe and loader. Victoria Mishcon, chairwoman of the selectmen, told residents the town would save money over the long term by purchasing its own road equipment, and Selectman Donald Gross said an appointed road agent is "the ideal plan for a small town." Mishcon said her board had not asked for a full road department because such proposals had been soundly defeated at past town meetings.

Residents who spoke before the vote were skeptical that they were being told the full cost of buying a backhoe loader. Carla Levesque asked whether the selectmen had considered the cost of maintaining and operating the equipment, as well as purchasing it.

"If I write down at home an item on my budget, it doesn't mean that the money's there," she said.

After more than 1½ hours of debate on the two proposals, residents rejected the backhoe purchase by a vote of 119-77, according to Janet Moore, a trustee of the town library. They denied their selectmen the power to appoint a road agent by a vote of 114-80, Moore said.

Voters went on to approve a $1.27 million general operating budget, an increase of about $75,000 from the previous year, as recommended by the budget committee.

In the proposal to purchase a backhoe loader, the selectmen had asked for permission to spend up to $130,000. Mishcon said the town would pay $25,000 annually for five years through a lease-purchase agreement.

The purchase would save money over the long term, according to information presented by the selectmen. If the town were to purchase a backhoe loader, it would pay $35,000 each year in principal and interest, fuel and maintenance during the first five years, compared with $37,000 each year if it continued to rent the equipment. Mishcon said the real savings of the purchase would show itself in the next 10 years, when the cost of ownership would drop to $19,000 each year.

"When you rent equipment, at the end of the rental you have nothing," Gross said.

Several residents worried that purchasing a backhoe loader would take income away from residents who now rent their equipment to the town. Cynthia Lewis, a resident, said she would rather rent to give business to her neighbors.

"What about support of our community?" she said. "Support of people who live here and rely on the income?"

Resident Wood Sutton said that if residents cannot make money renting their backhoe loaders to the town, they might stop keeping the equipment. Then other residents would lose access to it, he said.

"I think there's a misconception that if we get this backhoe loader, all our problems will go away," Sutton said.

A full-time road agent would cost the town $45,000 in salary and an additional $19,000 in benefits, according to the selectmen. But they said that would replace another $45,000 in budget items, and that the town actually would save more because departments would be better coordinated.

That argument held little sway with resident Mark Thompson, who asked his fellow meeting-goers if they understood the current elected road agent receives no salary and is only paid when he uses his equipment. He asked why the town would spend $64,000 to do a job "that's getting done almost for nothing."

Bill Johnson, another resident, warned attendees that "this highway department thing is a slippery slope." He said Andover doesn't need another town employee.

"It's just going to grow, just like everything else, just like our government has," Johnson said to applause.

(Karen Langley can be reached at 369-3316 or klangley@cmonitor.com.)




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