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Laurel Park to spend $1.74M on its ‘biggest problem’ — roads

LAUREL PARK — While the “Town on a Mountain” has history, charm and views aplenty, what it lacks is good roads.

Steep, narrow and winding, the roads are prone to being undercut by the stormwater that races downhill in the many torrential downpours. They crumble under the weight of garbage trucks and construction equipment. Town board members have lamented for years that no matter how much they’re able to spend on roads, the further behind they fall.
This year they’re doing something about it.
The town receives around $100,000 a year in state Powell Bill money for repaving and repairs and adds around $150,000 by dedicating 3 cents of the towns property tax levy to roads. A quarter million dollars’ worth of blacktop a year is not doing the job, Mayor Carey O’Cain said last Thursday in announcing the town’s new commitment to address “the biggest problem we have in town right now.”
“This year we’re going to spend a million dollars on roads — three times our normal amount, with the idea of trying to catch up,” he said. “Engineers have said, ‘You probably need to spend that several times.’”

Property taxes or a bond issue

There are two possible paths to sustain a plan to road accelerate road spending. After the countywide revaluation of real property next year, the town board could double the property tax it devotes to roads, to 6 cents, “which would enable us to have closer to $350,000 to $400,000 a year to keep our roads in good shape,” O’Cain said. “It’s necessary. The biggest problem we have in town right now is our roads.”
A voter-approved bond issue is another option, although Town Manager Alex Carmichael said Tuesday the board is not pursuing that “cumbersome” option for now.
During the town board’s meeting, finance officer Heather Smith presented a report on how the town would proceed on a general obligation bond. Designed so that those who benefit from the long-term loan are those who pay for it — the town’s property taxpayers in this case — general obligation bonds require voter approval. One liability is that a bond issue if complex and expensive, requiring a local government body to hire bond counsel, financial advisers, underwriters and rating agencies to guide the process through a regulatory thicket — a cost Smith estimated to be at least $75,000.

The actual amount the town is spending to improve its 35 miles of roads is close to $2 million when a $742,565 investment in drainage improvements is added. The Town Board voted to devote all its American Rescue Plan money this year and next to fix culverts and outdated stormwater drainage that is undermining roads. The town hopes to use the ARP money to repair or replace 79 culverts.

$3.4 million budget keeps tax rate level

After the road discussion and a public hearing on the budget that drew no public comment, the council unanimously adopted the town’s $3.39 million budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. Highlights include:
• $1.92 million in property and motor vehicle tax revenue, $778,000 in sales tax revenue and $140,000 in utilities revenue.
• Expenses of $53,610 for the town board, $639,525 for administration, $810,000 for public works, $812,200 for public safety, $195,000 for sanitation, $444,847 for fire and rescue and $249,520 for parks.
• Property tax rate of 43.5 cents per $100 valuation, the current rate.
• $561,000 for Laurel Green improvements including a Laurel Creek restoration project funded by a $158,500 state grant.
• $30,000 for the U.S. 64 gateway improvement project, increasing that fund to $120,000 with annual appropriations the town has made since 2020.
• $20,000 for the Laurel Park Centennial Committee (2025).
• $5,000 for the Ecusta Trail.