After the state’s local finance board gave its stamp of approval for a $35 million borrowing plan to repair 170 primary city roads put forward by mayor Jose “Joey” Torres, the city council on Tuesday evening narrowly approved the plan.
“This debt will be left to our grandchildren and great grandchildren,” said Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman, denouncing the mayor’s plan.
Torres’ plan calls the city to borrow $35 million by paying a down payment of $1.75 million. Borrowing for the road repair project increases the city’s total debt to $135 million. In addition to paying back the borrowed sum, the city will incur roughly $11.4 million in interest payments– with variable interest rates the city could pay much more.
Sayegh also expressed concerns about the plan itself. The councilman asked for an engineering report a week ago, but business administrator Nellie Pou said there wasn’t any. She said the city’s engineer handpicked the roads. Yet, the handpicking also did not have any documentations.
“There was no breakdown of costs at all,” said Sayegh. “This plan has as many holes as the ones it needs to fix.”
“From the outset of this plan, I said this was flim-flam, there were no details,” said council president Julio Tavarez. The 5th Ward councilman said the plan does not indicate how much it would cost to repair Market Street or any other street that’s on the list.
City residents expressed mixed reaction to the borrowing plan: some came out for the borrowing others came out against. “It’s a very hefty amount,” said Brent Nation, city resident.
“These streets must get paved,” said Maritza Davila, councilwoman at-large. Davila said the city’s roads are in dire shape. Tavarez, who voted against the ordinance, said it is a tough vote for him because of the condition the streets in his ward are in.
The council president said, the city’s roads are not so bad that they require complete reconstruction. Indeed, other council members have said just that, mainly that the city has a pothole problem, and not a road problem.
Voting in favor of the borrowing plan, Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, said the administration will include language in the bid specifications to make sure some city residents are hired by contractors.
Anthony Davis, 1st Ward councilman; Domingo “Alex” Mendez, councilman at-large; Ruby Cotton 4th Ward councilwoman; William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman; Morris, and Davila voted in the affirmative.
“Sometimes you can’t follow the crowd, the crowd might be going in the wrong direction,” said Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman, 2nd Ward councilman. Akhtaruzzaman suggested the city should have used the money to hire more police officers.
Akhtaruzzaman, Sayegh, and Tavarez voted against the ordinance. “Today or tomorrow it’s going to haunt us,” said Akhtaruzzaman.