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Highway superintendent, others want more road, bridge funds in Jefferson County budget

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Several Jefferson County legislators and the highway superintendent are asking that the 2013 budget include more money to fix crumbling roads and bridges.

At a budget workshop Tuesday night, county Highway Superintendent James L. Lawrence Jr. requested an additional $800,000 to replace roads and an additional $1.5 million to replace county-owned bridges and culverts. That money would fund the complete reconstruction of certain roads and bridges in the county. He has also requested between $250,000 and $300,000 more in repair funds for more minor fixes.

“I’m just here to show the need,” Mr. Lawrence said after handing out a packet describing deficient bridges, culverts and roads.

Mr. Lawrence said that paying the money to fix minor problems now will end up saving the county money down the road before the problems get much worse and much more costly.

Legislators Allen T. Drake, D-Theresa, Philip N. Reed, R-Fishers Landing, Anthony J. Doldo, R-Watertown, and Robert D. Ferris, R-Watertown, were receptive to the idea that a stitch in time saves nine when it comes to infrastructure.

“There’s a big need for roads and infrastructure,” Mr. Ferris said Tuesday night. “I’d definitely like to see more money in this budget for that.”

Mr. Lawrence estimates that 50 percent of roads are in good condition, while 25 percent are in fair condition and 25 percent are in poor condition. Upwards of 60 percent of bridges are deficient, Mr. Lawrence said.

But legislators who want more transportation money might have to cut other programs that are currently funded or increase taxes to get it.

County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann III released a proposed budget Monday that increases the property tax levy by $2.1 million, or 4 percent. To pay for new bridge and road projects, legislators can increase the levy by as much as $3.5 million from 2012 while still living within the state’s tax cap, which stands at 7.5 percent for Jefferson County. The board can also vote to increase property taxes by more than 7.5 percent, but would need a supermajority to do so.

Lawmakers can also look to trim in other areas, or they could increase the amount of money they expect to receive for the sales tax.

Legislator Scott A. Gray, R-Watertown, the chairman of the Finance and Rules Committee, told legislators that for every $500,000 more they spend, property taxes will increase by roughly 1 percent if cuts aren’t found elsewhere.

The budget comes before his committee on Wednesday at noon. The board will then hold a public hearing on Nov. 13 and vote on it later that day.

Chairwoman Carolyn D. Fitzpatrick, R-Watertown, said at the end of the meeting that legislators should think before they spend.

“Think about what we need,” she said. “Wishes and dreams aren’t necessarily needs.”

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