State finds $30M surplus, will distribute to towns, cities today
By THOMAS P. CALDWELL, LACONIA DAILY SUN
Laconia will see nearly $300,000 in additional highway funds, thanks to the $30 million that the state announced it would be distributing to municipalities on Monday. Other local towns will also welcome a windfall, which will be put to use improving local roads and bridges.
The money comes from the state’s year-end surplus that normally would go into the revenue stabilization reserve account commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund.
“Due to responsible budgeting in FY 16-17, our state produced significant surplus that has not only grown the Rainy Day Fund, but allowed our state to return millions of taxpayer dollars to our communities,” said Senate President Chuck Morse (R-Salem). “Nearly $30 million will be returned to cities and towns to directly support critical infrastructure improvements that will benefit our citizens across the state.”
Bill Watson of the Bureau of Community Planning and Development said the checks were being cut on Tuesday and would be going out today (Wednesday). Gov. Sununu plans to hand-deliver three or four of the checks, Watson said.
“By the end of the week, everybody should have all of the allotted funds,” Watson said.
The one-time appropriation supplements the regular highway block grants that go out each year. The state annually provides around $30 million to the communities, the amount determined by applying 12 percent of all highway revenues to the towns. During 2010 and 2011, the state also used money from a temporary increase in motor vehicle fees to supplement regular highway revenues.
This week’s distribution doubles what the municipalities regularly receive.
The money is allocated in the same way: Fifty percent is based on a town’s population and 50 percent is based on the town’s share of local road mileage. It is a non-lapsing grant, which means a community does not have to spend the whole amount by the end of its fiscal year, allowing it to plan ahead to make the best use of the funds.
Laconia’s portion of the new block grant will be $294,633.74.
“We were well aware this was coming in from a return of funds from the state surplus,” said City Manager Scott Myers. “We knew the distribution formula was similar to the annual highway block grants, so, being conservative, we said we’d get something in the $270,000 - $280,000 range.”
Although the city expected the funds, they were not included in the budget, in case the bill did not pass.
“Once we know when the funds will be available, we’ll set up a first reading and then a public hearing to accept the unanticipated funds,” Myers said.
Watson noted that it is important for municipalities to properly handle the funds. There must be a public hearing before the city council or board of selectmen can vote to accept the money and then decide how to spend it.
Towns should work through the Department of Revenue Administration, Watson said.
“There still is a process to accept and expend money, and the DRA and New Hampshire Municipal Association are there to support the towns,” he said.
Myers said Laconia’s recently adopted budget already contains $1.5 million in the general streets budget (the same as last year), so the additional grant will bring the amount of cash on hand to $1.8 million. Additionally, the budget contains $2.5 million in the form of a 10-year bond for general street repairs.
“That means we’ll have in excess of $4.2 million in working dollars, and we hope to make some positive and significant impacts,” Myers said.
One project he listed is the major reconstruction of Court Street, from Fair Street to Durkee Street, next spring.
“It’s a significant undertaking,” Myers said, “involving drainage, sidewalks, et cetera.”
Myers noted that the city has a paving firm doing a city-wide assessment of all its streets in order to create a five-year working program for street maintenance, “tying in cost estimates for budgeting to accomplish a reasonable number of streets on an annual basis.” That report should be available later this fall. The City Council will work through the report over the winter in order to come out with a plan for spring construction.
Myers noted that there is a separate piece of SB 38 that provides $6,800,000 in state bridge aid for the repair of structurally deficient municipal bridges. That money covers 80 percent of the cost of bridge work, with the towns contributing 20 percent.
“We have a few bridges referred to as being in the out years,” Myers said, “so that will help move up those bridges to have the repairs occur a little earlier.”
Gilford Town Administrator Scott Dunn said the town already has a road maintenance plan and the selectmen will take a look at what’s scheduled over the next five years to determine where they want to spend that town’s $165,695.70 highway grant.
‘We knew it was in the governor’s budget,” Dunn said, but, like Laconia, the town did not include the revenues in its budget. “We will have a public hearing to accept the money, and then we’ll go through the list.”
Belmont Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin said she would have to review the bill before commenting, but she said the town is planning to start updating its capital improvement road assessment program next week.
“It’s several years old, and we have done a number of roads,” she said of the old plan.
Belmont will be receiving $165,695.70 for road repairs.
Meredith’s allotment will be $182,156.66.
Town Manager Phil Warren said, “I have been following the state budget and was awaiting the final amount to be awarded, so it was anticipated.
“We have not made a decision on where to use it yet,” he added.
Franklin will receive $176,477.66, and City Manager Elizabeth Dragon said the money will cover a shortfall on the Haynes Brook culvert job, near Franklin Hannaford. Dragon said the city had obtained a grant to do the work, but the bids came in much higher than expected.
“A combination of funds for this project will take care of the gap,” she said.
According to the NH Municipal Association, New Hampshire has nearly 17,000 miles of state and town roads, turnpikes and interstate highways, with municipalities owning and maintaining nearly 70 percent, or 11,865 miles of roadways.
There are more than 3,795 bridges in New Hampshire, and municipalities own and maintain 1,685, or 44 percent of them.
The N.H. Department of Transportation has "red listed" 353, or 21 percent of the municipal bridges, as in need of replacement or significant repair because of structural deficiencies or vehicle restrictions.