Special election set for road repair spending in Deerfield

Deerfield’s municipal offices and police station on Conway Street.

Deerfield’s municipal offices and police station on Conway Street. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 12-03-2023 2:17 PM

DEERFIELD — Voters will head to the ballot box Tuesday to decide on a Proposition 2½ debt-exclusion question that would allow the town to borrow up to $5 million to pay for road repairs following July’s heavy rainstorms.

Residents overwhelmingly approved the authorization at a Special Town Meeting in October, but a second approval with at least a two-thirds majority at an election is needed for the Selectboard to move forward.

The election will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 5, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Deerfield Town Hall, 8 Conway St.

During their most recent meeting, Selectboard members encouraged residents to come out and vote for the authorization, with member Trevor McDaniel emphasizing the town’s need to pay the millions of dollars it has racked up in the months since roads were washed away and damaged around town.

“We have spent a lot of money opening the roads and making people safe. This isn’t like we have $5 million to have fun with,” he said. “We need to pay our bills and our treasurer is worried sick. You run out of money as a town; there’s not an unlimited well.”

If approved, Finance Committee Chair Julie Chalfant estimated in October the average single-family tax bill in Deerfield, based on the average home value of $359,661 and a loan interest rate of 6% over a 20-year period, would increase by $178 per year, or 3.2%. This means the average property owner would pay approximately $178 per year for 20 years to cover the loan.

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The town has totaled up at least $3.5 million in “already completed repairs, currently identified additional repairs and contingency” funds, according to the Special Town Meeting guide distributed to residents in October.

Selectboard Chair Carolyn Shores Ness, as she had explained when making the case for the vote ahead of Special Town Meeting, said the $5 million sum also provides much-needed flexibility for the town over the winter, especially in the case of River Road, which had been sinking during each subsequent storm this fall.

As of Wednesday, she noted, River Road “seems like it’s stabilizing,” but having additional borrowing authority means the town can respond right away in the event of a failure of River Road or any other street during the winter, rather than have to call another Special Town Meeting.

“We have to have it in our back pocket,” Shores Ness said, noting River Road is a “major artery” and if it were to fail, it could cut off emergency vehicles’ routes.

The state may also be providing storm damage relief money to Deerfield, Conway and several other communities across the state that suffered damages throughout the summer in a supplemental budget, but as of right now, there is no date — or guarantee — they will get the reimbursement.

Selectboard member Tim Hilchey, responding to a Nov. 16 letter to the editor in the Greenfield Recorder, said the town is not “tipping our hand” to the state by putting this article before voters. He said the “government knows” that towns have to pay for these repairs at some point and being proactive won’t sway the state in either direction.

In a similar vein, Conway’s Dec. 9 Special Town Meeting will also bring an article requesting $1.5 million in borrowing to cover emergency spending for the damages it suffered in the same storms that hit Deerfield.

If the state comes through, or if Deerfield doesn’t need to borrow the full $5 million, the Selectboard intends to include an article at the spring Annual Town Meeting to rescind the borrowing authority.

“Please come out and vote and give us some flexibility,” Shores Ness said. “Hopefully we can rescind it in the spring. Until then, we need you to continue to support us.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com.