The beginning of March is when town staff and commissioners begin to look at budget priorities for the coming fiscal year. I am already in general discussions with key staff members.
Here is the problem, I tend to be a “big idea thinker,” but staff members like the town manager bring up those nagging questions about how to pay for my big ideas. For instance, I see a great need to pave a lot of roads in town. The public works director and town manager agree.
But then they go to their pencils and calculators and tell me just how much each road will cost to pave. The same is the case for needed water line replacements, bear proofing garbage cans, replacing worn out equipment and funding needed programs.
The town annually has more needs than a single budget can fund. Administrators maintain a list of priorities that the board uses to fund needed projects. This list will be consulted again at our March Highlands Town Retreat. The problem is we never complete the list. As one project is done and removed from the list another new project pops up, like in the case of the Satulah water tank. It came from nowhere. The water tank replacement was not even on the list a few years ago, but when the old tank began to leak and experts told us it was failing, this critical project jumped to the top of the list.
The condition of many roads has been exacerbated this year by the heavy rain and winter. Roads that we thought had longer service periods have been damaged by the over 120 inches of rain this past year. In the coming years road paving will take up a lot of the town resources.
I anticipate the town manager’s mid-year budget update will indicate that the town has strong reserves as revenues have been building up because of the strong economy. The big question that the board will decide at the forthcoming budget workshops centers around how much of those reserves should be spent to address the big projects like road paving, water line replacement and other pressing items.
For a number annual budget cycles the town has focused on needed upgrades to recreation facilities. A small tax increase was earmarked for these long overdue improvements. We are now coming to the end of this cycle for recreation. I believe our next major focus will be on roads and waterline replacements. We have several waterline upgrades that will cost nearly a million apiece. Paving a couple of miles or so of road can approach that number also. Like in recreation improvements, this new focus on infrastructure will not be a one-year effort. It will take a number of years before we have addressed all these issues.
I continue to press the DOT to remove debris from the major state roads. This work needs to be completed before tourist and seasonal visitors return to the Plateau.
- Town of Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor