Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Should Fontana borrow to repair village’s worst roads?

by Rob Ireland

July 14, 2011

Fontana — Roads in the village are in need of repair, but at least one trustee is against shelling out the cash to fix them.

Trustee Peg Pollitt said the village isn’t in the position to borrow any more money and increase its debt, which already exceeds $20 million.

During the Village Board’s June 6 meeting, trustees discussed whether it should borrow money to fund maintenance projects, which would include repairs to the village’s safety building and several roads.

Stearns Road, Shabbona Drive and Dewey and Lake streets are all in need of repair and are considered some of the worst thoroughfares in Fontana. The safety building — which houses the police, fire and rescue departments — needs sidewalks replaced and retaining walls repaired.

Trustee George Spadoni wants the village to borrow money to pay for the maintenance projects. Initial estimates for all the repairs are between $1.3 and $1.5 million.

In the 2011 budget, the Village Board cut funding for repairs to Shabbona Drive, which included work on the utilities underneath the road.

“We made a mistake last year,” Spadoni said about not funding the repairs.

To repair Shabbona Drive, Village Public Work’s Director Craig Workman presented the board with a construction cost estimate, which came in at more than $900,000.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Pollitt said the board can’t change its budget during the middle of the year.

“That was a contract with our taxpayers,” she said. “To do something like this is a knee-jerk reaction.”

However, Spadoni said Walworth County and other municipalities have borrowed money to fund road repairs because bond rates are low.

“They don’t have $20 million in debt, they have a lower debt ratio and received a better rate than we will,” Pollitt said.

Pollitt and Spadoni went back-and-forth on the issue, which continued during the next agenda item, a 3 percent increase in the village’s water rate.

“There is a $28 base rate for no usage in Lake Geneva and it is $86 in Fontana,” Pollitt said. “The difference is theirs has no debt.”

Other village trustees said both Spadoni and Pollitt make good points.

On Friday, Trustee Thomas McGreevy said Pollitt is right about the budget, but that the village made a mistake by not allowing room for borrowing in the budget.

However, McGreevy said this may be the best time to repair the roads.

“There are some very low bids coming in because road builders need the work,” McGreevy said. “It would be a positive to try to fix the roads, they are not going to get any better.”

McGreevy said he will want to see what interests rate the village will receive before he comitts to repairing the roads.

“If its going to jeopardize our rating it may make sense to wait another year,” McGreevy said. “If we can get it done for the right interest and not affect our bond rating we should do it.”

Trustee Patrick Kenny, who chair’s the village finance committee, echoed some of McGreevy’s comments.

“I agree with Peg that we don’t want to go into more debt,” Kenny said. “But it is an inevitable thing that we go to do it.”

Kenny said the village needs to look at the big picture, which means looking at the infrastructure needs.