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Vecchio: Town can't afford highway debt

Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio during a town board

Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio during a town board meeting on Feb. 7, 2012. Photo Credit: Ed Betz

Smithtown's highway chief is asking the town to borrow $10 million to repave roads and fix sidewalks. But Supervisor Patrick Vecchio says the town can't afford it.

Highway Superintendent Glenn Jorgensen said yesterday at a town board work session that the town's highways are "deteriorating beyond repair." He requested $5 million this year and another $5 million next year to pave about 27 miles of town roads and address 6,000 complaints about crumbling curbs and sidewalks.

"Doing them now is the right thing to do," Jorgensen told the board. "If you don't do them now, it's going to cost you two- or threefold later."

But Vecchio, after chiding Jorgensen for leaving road-repair money unspent in 2010 and last year, said borrowing $10 million is "not sustainable." He said the town cannot afford to repay the loan with interest and stay within the state's 2 percent cap on tax levy increases.

"It just can't be done," Vecchio said. "It's that simple."

Jorgensen's request would have to be approved by four members of the five-member town board because it involves borrowing money. Vecchio said he would vote to reject the request.

The borrowing requested by Jorgensen would raises taxes by $2.23 for every $1,000 of assessed value, said town comptroller Louis A. Necroto.

Councilman Robert Creighton agreed that Smithtown's roads must be repaired. "We have to address the roads problem. The roads are in desperate shape . . . and getting worse," Creighton said.

The Highway Department has $5.1 million to repair roads and $2 million to fix curbs and sidewalks this year, Jorgensen told reporters. That will allow highway crews to pave about 30 miles of roads, he said.

He said many highway and sidewalk repairs lagged last year because he had to assign crews to clean roads of debris left by Tropical Storm Irene last August.

Jorgensen said roads would continue to deteriorate if they are not repaved. Fixing roads now would cost $180,000 per mile, but reconstructing those highways in a few years would cost $300,000 per mile, he said.

"I don't think there would be any homeowner that would mind paying a little extra," he said.

But Vecchio said borrowing money for the work was "fiscally irresponsible" and could lead to layoffs of town workers.

No date was set for voting on the request.

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