Vernon Town Council sets public hearing on road plan

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Thu., Oct. 3, 2013
At the Town Council meeting on Oct. 1, Councilwoman Marie Herbst was displeased that information about the plan to fix Vernon's roads was being presented before the public hearing. Photos by Steve Smith.
At the Town Council meeting on Oct. 1, Councilwoman Marie Herbst was displeased that information about the plan to fix Vernon's roads was being presented before the public hearing. Photos by Steve Smith.

The Vernon Town Council spent time during its latest meeting discussing a motion to set a public hearing date on the issuance of bonds totaling $27,637,000 for a road improvement plan. Mayor George Apel said the plan took six months of research, and would put the town into a preventive road program, which would save the town money in the long term by improving roads that need simpler upkeep and reducing the more-costly need for complete reconstruction of roads.

Public Works Director Robert Kleinhans said the plan would take place over six years, and would upgrade 200 of the town's roads to a level where they could be more easily and less-expensively maintained. “By keeping good pavement in good shape, we prolong their life,” Kleinhans said of the roads, adding that a comprehensive survey of road conditions in town was done by his staff, and they had prioritized their conditions into a matrix, where costs were assigned.

Some roads, Kleinhans said, need full reconstruction, while others need minor re-surfacing or sealing. “The aim is to get caught up, and then allow us to move forward and maintain these roads,” he said.

The council members seemingly agreed with the content of the presentation, but some thought it better left for the actual public hearing, which was eventually slated for Oct. 15.

“The only thing we are supposed to do, with the motion on the floor,” said council member Marie Herbst, about 18 minutes into the presentation, “is decide whether or not it's going to go to public hearing. What we are listening to tonight is supposed to be presented at the public hearing, so the people of this town, including the town council, can hear the presentation.”

Councilman Steven Peterson said he thought the public likely prefers that the council hear the details. “I think the public wants us to do this,” he said. “They expect us to get some outside information and not walk into the public hearing cold. We're doing our duty.”

Councilman Michael Winkler said there is an inherent assumption that the town would, in the future, appropriate funds for a roads maintenance plan. “What makes you think that's going to happen?” he asked.

Kleinhans said that good roads are an asset to a town, and that it would have to budget to maintain that asset. “This is the right way to do it,” he said.

Winkler also noted that paying back the principal and interest would bring the total payments to around $40 million. “Because we didn't put money away on a yearly basis, we are going to pay $40 million,” Winkler said.

More of an issue for the council was the wording of the second half of the motion, which to some seemed to indicate that the ordinance, if receiving a favorable vote, would be binding before it is sent to public hearing.

“I thought this ordinance was to be decided upon after the public hearing,” said Councilman Bill Campbell.

Town Administrator John Ward and Finance Director James Luddecke explained that because the ordinance includes bonding, it must read the way it does, and that the council will still be able to deliberate over the ordinance after public comment.

“The public hearing is conditioned on this being passed,” Ward said. “If you don't do this, then nothing will occur in two weeks [at the potential public hearing.]”

Winkler attempted to amend the proposal to include “for consideration by public hearing.”

“The way this reads now, we've already signed off on this,” Winkler said. “When I read this, it says, 'We are not interested in what the public has to say, we've already made up our minds.' I can't say this tonight.”

But Luddecke said the wording of the motion was dictated by the bond commission, and must remain intact. “This is what this council has to do,” he said.

Apel said that he isn't a fan of the language either, but realizes it is necessary for the process. He added that if the council changes its mind after citizens' input at the public hearing, the ordinance could be changed, but it would require re-starting the process.

“Basically, it would be voted down, and we'd have to go start all over again,” Apel said. “It would go [back] to the Town Council with whatever the modifications are. If they're accepted, then we'd have to go to another public hearing, and do it all over again... the whole bit.”

The eventual vote approving the language of the ordinance passed, 7-5. The public hearing will take place Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers at Vernon Town Hall.

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