Letter to Editor: Hartzell Road Plan Worth a Look
Ocean City resident Michael Hinchman supports public dialogue on ways to improve roads and drainage.
Give credit to Councilman Keith Hartzell for galvanizing the public's attention on this issue.
Let's objectively say where we stand today:
The city underinvested in its roads and drainage for 20 years. Mayor Sal Perillo's administration spent approximately $1.7 to $1.9 million per year as compared to Mayor Gillian's first two years of about $2.4 million per year. The Gillian administration also plans an additional major capital project over the next five to 10 years of replacing the Ocean City Boardwalk between Fifth and 12th streets.
Another factor to take into account is that long-term and short-term borrowing rates are at historical lows today. Incidentally, debt service does not fall under the 2 percent cap.
The economy remains problematic with revenue more difficult to come by — whether you are an individual, company or city. Public employees' salary increases are smaller, but are at a particularly high level compared to many other municipalities.
I invited Ocean City Business Administrator Mike Dattilo and City Council members Mike DeVlieger, Mike Allegretto and Pete Guinosso to my home last week to try to agree on the methodology of how to attack the roads and drainage issue.
Although private conversations are not something I repeat, I can report the following input from the group.
Allegretto: How are you going to fund it? Workshops in September a good probability.
DeVlieger: Coordinate with utilities better so we don't dig up roads we just paved.
Dattilo: We have maps and are updating our information.
Guinosso: Will make proposal on road openings — so we don't destroy what we fix.
I propose the following:
- The administration appoint someone or a task force of three or four people to focus on this No. 1 issue. Throw more horsepower at it with Dattilo and/ or Ocean City Finance Director Frank Donato.
- The administration should present in September a first-class citywide visual presentation of the roads broken down this way: a) the worst roads that need repaving; b) roads in need of repaving; c) roads that need paving and have drainage issues (the most expensive); d) the worst alleys. Per Councilman Hartzell — What is it going to cost in the aggregate?
- Explain the cost for a block of paving only — give examples.
- Explain cost from an historical standpoint — more or less today to do paving.
- Create a timeline for all phases — deciding, permitting, work, etc.
- What has been permitted today, and what are we attempting to permit? A timeline.
The above is simply organizing pertinent information for voters. I would like to offer up some ideas for thought.
- What do you save if you just repave the middle of the road and not the shoulders?
- Roads that have the most traffic, not necessarily the worst roads, should be fixed first.
- Get more permits now, so long as they do not expire — this puts utilities on notice and you have an inventory so you can be opportunistic in the future.
- Is it necessary to put 12 inches of concrete alongside the curb in the roadbed? More expensive.
- Fix in the public's mind $1 million of capital expenditures financed over 10 years at 2.2% is approximately $115,000 per year.
- Given new factors to consider about the boardwalk surface, consider delaying the boardwalk reconstruction for a year or 18 months — don't start the boardwalk until we have the wood on premises.
- The capital plan needs to be presented in the prior fall not in January of a given year — more time to adjust and plan.
Mr. Hartzell's presentation was worthwhile on Saturday — as it brings focus and discussion. Other ideas mentioned were to consider asset sales and, if roads and drainage are that important, to bump other projects. A half of one percent savings on a $70 million budget is $350,000 — tighten your belt.
Personally, I am not in favor of the Hartzell proposal, but I think it should go on the ballot. It is a way to gauge the public opinion. It advances the discussion. I would prefer the administration and City Council come up with a way to fund every year(s) in advance. You can be more flexible and keep working on the spending side. Also, low interest rates are too good to pass up. We need to organize, focus and be clever.