CONWAY — Amid rising gasoline and other prices, selectmen decided Tuesday to halt several road paving projects this year as they otherwise won’t have enough money to run the plow trucks this winter unless they call for a special town meeting to unlock funds they have in the general fund.
Town Manager Tom Holmes said although about $40,000 was added to the town’s proposed operating budget at deliberative session in March, the $12,754,558 operating budget voters passed in April still can’t accommodate paving roads and running trucks.
“At that time (of deliberative session), Mr. Putin had invaded Ukraine for one week, it was general consensus that it wasn’t gonna be a long war, because everyone knows it turned out to be a much tougher fight and good for them (Ukrainians),” said Holmes. “But it is increasing gas prices to a level that’s unsustainable for the town, as far as what they budgeted for.”
Public Works Director Andrew Smith said the budget for diesel fuel and gas for the town and school buses is in the highway department’s line item.
“We have spent about $120,000 to date and the budget is about $158,000,” said Smith. “We have about $40,000 left, and it’s the end of five months.”
When the Conway School District pays the town back for the fuel, the money goes back into the town’s general fund.
The problem, said Holmes, is that once the money is back in the general fund, it requires a town vote to spend it.
“We have money in the bank; we just need to be able to appropriate it,” said Holmes.
The situation didn’t sit well with Selectman Carl Thibodeau.
“It doesn’t make any sense that we can’t take the money that’s being used to purchase fuel and purchase fuel,” said Thibodeau, who encouraged Holmes to speak to the New Hampshire Department of Revenue about the issue.
Smith expects prices to climb higher in the summer season. The most recent fuel cost was $5.46 per gallon and last year at this time he was paying $2.32 per gallon.
“Are we looking to go $7-$8? I have no idea,” said Smith.
Smith added if the town stops several paving projects, $263,000 could be saved. Canceled projects include Forbes Drive/Randall Farm Road, which has a base pavement but not a top coat, and maintenance paving on Davis Hill Road, Meeting House Road, and Woodland Grove Road. He said this is the third time Meeting House and Woodland Grove Roads have been delayed. He said Meeting House Road is a road to nowhere and Woodland Grove is a small development. Those three roads were to get a total of about $158,000 worth of maintenance paving.
Smith said the town would have enough money for diesel if $263,000 worth of paving is canceled and diesel fuel averages at $7 per gallon for the rest of the year.
In response to a question from Selectman Steve Porter, Smith said next year the selectmen should look at creating another line item in the highway department budget for fuel.
Holmes said town staff could ask DRA if they had any suggestions and organize a special town meeting later on this year if necessary.
Ultimately, selectmen voted 5-0 to cancel paving jobs on Davis Hill, Meeting House and Woodland Grove, and discontinue the paving in progress on Forbes Drive/Randall Farm Road.
“As much as I hate the idea of postponing any of these road maintenance projects, because as I’ve said many times we’re 18 years in our Ten Year Plan, with the price of pavement going the way it is, it may not be a bad thing to postpone it till next year anyway,” said Thibodeau.