To The Daily Sun,
Whether to plow private roads is not unique to Laconia or Moultonborough. Last November, Allentown stopped plowing private roads it had previously plowed for decades.
Michael Kitch's recent report in The Laconia Daily Sun captured the essence of the issue: private roads are "plowed and maintained with public funds contrary to state law." He also correctly reported that by plowing and maintaining private roads, the municipality is exposed to suit for personal injury or property damage, with no insurance coverage. Thus, if municipal plowing operations cause personal injury or property damage, the cost would be born entirely by local taxpayers.
Some have suggested that the solution rests in the hands of the state Legislature. But, there's an inter-related issue which has not drawn attention.
"Federal-Aid highway funds are authorized by Congress to assist the States in providing for construction, reconstruction, and improvement of highways and bridges on eligible federal-aid highway routes and for other special purpose programs and projects." (A Guide To Federal-Aid Programs And Projects, U.S. DOT, Federal Highway Administration.) Each year, the federal government disburses billions of dollars to states for transportation needs and some of that money goes to local governments. That money cannot be diverted to become a private benefit. If the feds become aware of such diversion, the federal government could withhold future funding and demand repayment.
Local leaders and taxpayers should consider a bigger picture. When private enclaves, like Suissevale in Moultonborough, are relieved of the costs to plow roads, that's a windfall savings to them.
When any private enclave is relieved of the cost to plow their roads, they then have money to create and maintain amenities which the public is prohibited from enjoying. Suissevale is a private enclave of about 500 properties and a prime example of the impropriety and inequity of plowing private roads with public funds. Suissevale has many private amenities not available to the public: a beautiful beach, tennis courts, children's playground, boat docks, a ski slope, basketball court, indoor pool, community center, and their own U.S. postal station.
Think of it this way: if someone constantly paid for your groceries, what could you do with your grocery money? Vacation? New car? Hot tub?
I suggest it would be much better for Moultonborough and Laconia to stop plowing or maintaining private roads, leave that cost to the property owners, and use the recovered funds to benefit the entire community through creation or maintenance of public facilities, or simply use the savings to reduce the residential tax rate.
Meredith & Phoenix