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Oct 18

Statement on Private Roads Questions

Posted on October 18, 2017 at 11:15 AM by Monique Lavallee

Citizens have raised the question of whether the discontinuance of plowing private roads beginning next winter 2018-2019 (not this winter) by Colchester will result in a decrease in taxes. This is a budget decision that will be made by the Selectboard during the next few months with the voters ultimately deciding on the budget in March of 2018. Taxpayers should be aware, however, that the Department of Public Works has a longstanding staffing shortage that exists year round and is not limited to any particular season or program. While four additional maintenance workers have been hired over the past 30 years, this increase has failed to counteract the challenges facing the department. These challenges include the following:

  • Roadway mileage has increased by 24 miles, or about 35%, over the past 30 years.
  • Pedestrian facilities have increased by 27 miles, or about 135%, over the past 30 years.
  • Traffic volume on primary through-routes has increased by 4,252 vehicles per day, or about 44%, over the past 30 years.
  • Citizen requests for service have increased by 154 per year, or about 335%, over the past 10 years.
  • Among the 25 largest communities in the state, Colchester’s Highway Division is ranked 15th for employees per road mile, and 22nd for employees per resident.
  • Many of the department’s maintenance functions are now mandatory under state and federal permits, as opposed to discretionary and have become more labor intensive.
  • Crews are under pressure to maintain infrastructure to a very high standard to avoid litigation from the public.
  • As the community evolves, citizen expectations naturally increase. Today’s citizens expect safe, walkable neighborhoods with pedestrian facilities and adequate lighting and wide roadways to accommodate on-street parking for social gatherings. Citizens are also more in tune with environmental issues and have high expectations relating to stormwater management. While the Town has been proactive in recognizing these changing needs and has updated minimum infrastructure standards, the maintenance staff has not grown accordingly.
  • It has been suggested that ending the plowing of private roads will provide a comprehensive solution to these challenges. In reality, these issues exist independently, and on a much larger scale than this policy decision. While decreasing winter maintenance by 14 miles will provide some operational savings (around $20,000), it will not improve the staffing shortage in any meaningful way. The time saved will be minimal, and it will be reallocated to the Town’s public transportation system. The department will still be forced to leave roadways in subpar conditions during snow storms and to leave operators in trucks for 12–16 hour shifts. Despite the change to the plowing policy, the DPW remains understaffed and in need of expansion. Again, staff will be having this discussion with the Selectboard in our upcoming budget work sessions held during November and December and will be weighing this critical need with many other competing priorities, including requests from our two volunteer fire departments for full time firefighters.
~ The Town Manager & Department of Public Works

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