After the city’s governing body awarded contracts to two firms, the city is “rapidly” moving to implement phase-one of mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ project to repair 170 primary roads, said city officials.
“We will be scheduling that right away as soon as the contracts are signed,” said business administrator Nellie Pou about the road repairs on Monday afternoon. “We can execute the [contracts] right away.”
The city council last week approved $6.75 million for phase-one to reconstruct roads in four of the city’s six wards. Wallington-based Smith-Sondy Asphalt Construction was awarded $1.93 million contract to repair roads in the 1st and the 2nd Wards.
Bloomfield-based J.A. Alexander received a $4.82 million contract to reconstruct roads in 5th and 6th Wards.
The council also rejected bids for road repairs for the 3rd and 4th Wards that came in too high. The lowest bid of $5.90 million from J.A. Alexander was $1 million more than the city had budgeted for the first-phase of the project, said city officials. The city will return to bid for those two wards immediately, said city officials.
“How do you move forward with this resurfacing program given the lateness in the year? We’re about to initiate the program at the height of the travel season which is July,” said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, last Tuesday.
Morris said the work should have begun early spring. He said this will cause a great deal of disruptions and as the city may run into winter especially since the roads are being reconstructed with curb to curb with catch basins, accessibility ramps, and not simply undergoing resurfacing.
City officials sought urgent approval from the council to award the contracts to start moving on the road repairs. “If we don’t move forward on the project we end up incurring debt service on money that we borrowed,” said Morris.
Phase-one of the $37 million road repair project will cost the city $11.66 million, according to officials. The city is borrowing $35 million which it will have to repay with interest. Projections show after 24 years the city will repay 55.3 million.
Credit downgrades of both the state and the city has resulted in an increase of $900,000 in debt service which was projected at $54.4 million last year. Those debts are scheduled to be repaid by 2040.
Prior to the vote council members expressed concerns over debt service despite having given approval to borrow the money for road repairs last summer. Much of it had to deal with the changing financial picture of the city and New Jersey, both of which suffered downgrades in recent months driving up the price of borrowing.
The debt will be repaid using funds that would have otherwise gone towards repairing the 170 roads, said city officials. The calculus appears to be that over the 30-year period it would cost the city much more to repair worn out roads than to have new ones.
Council members did not buy the argument that the roads will last three decades. “By that time,” said Alex Mendez, councilman at-large, mentioning the debt repayment schedule which ends at 2040, “our roads are going to be destroyed and we won’t have money to fix it.”
Mendez also expressed worries that after the city completes the roads, within a short period of time, utility companies will open them up and patch them, shortening the life of a given roadway.
“We have a pothole problem and not necessarily a road resurfacing problem,” added William McKoy. “I don’t know of any road that’s going to last us 30 years.”
McKoy compared the borrowing to entering into a long-term lease for a vehicle whose life will end before the debt leaving the leaseholder saddled debt payments while being without a vehicle. “The numbers are too large for the temporary nature of the project,” he said.
Mendez suggested the city revisit McKoy’s plan to spend money in bolstering the city’s public works to expand its operation that will eventually let the city collect neighboring towns’ garbage at fee. This will led to more revenue and jobs in the city, McKoy argued at the time.
McKoy’s discussion led to the inclusion of a jobs element in the road repair plan. The city required companies to either hire local residents or contribute to a job training fund. Both firms that received contracts last week have opted to contribute to the fund.
At five-percent of contract, the city will have almost $600,000 for the job training program, during phase-one. And roughly $1.85 million during the entire project, said city officials. The business administrator said these funds will allow the city to equip its residents with marketable job skills.
“They can be trained and educated in different types of trades and positons,” said Pou.
“I’m looking forward to see that,” said Mendez of the job training piece.
A majority of council members approved the contracts. Julio Tavarez, 5th Ward councilman, voted against calling it a “bad investment” as did his close ally and friend Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman.
“This is going to be very costly for taxpayers,” said Sayegh.
Both Sayegh and Tavarez voted against borrowing the $35 for road repairs last year.