SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

May 15, 2013

Ipswich Town Meeting OKs budgets, Linebrook work

By Jonathan Phelps
Staff writer

---- — IPSWICH — Town Meeting voters last night overwhelmingly approved a $3 million plan to repave and improve bicycle and pedestrian safety along a stretch of Linebrook Road.

Residents also approved a $15.4 million municipal budget for next fiscal year and $24.9 million for the schools.

At the start of the meeting just after 7:30 p.m. there were 218 residents in attendance at the High/Middle School Performing Arts Center, according to the town clerk’s office.

Article 9, involving Linebrook Road, called for upgrading sidewalks, repaving, and installing pedestrian and bicyclist safety measures along a 3-mile stretch. The Doyon Elementary School’s parking area will also be upgraded as part of the plan.

Town officials had originally planned to seek $2 million to resurface the roadway, but several groups asked to expand the work to include safety improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists, selectmen Chairman Bill Craft said.

“There was a question of safety for our young people,” Craft said. “There is a good argument to be made that they should be able to walk from the middle school to Doyon School on sidewalks.”

Heidi Paek, co-chairman of the Planning Board, explained the stretch of road between Washington and Howe streets would need signage, crosswalks, sidewalks and improved drainage. The street also needs to be widened in several dangerous areas, she said.

“Most residents no longer feel safe leaving their driveways by foot or bicycle,” she said.

The plan was supported by selectmen, School Committee, Finance Committee and Planning Board.

Upper River Road resident Brian Hone, also a member of the newly formed Ipswich Pedestrian and Cycling Advocacy Group, spoke in favor of the article. He noted that Linebrook Road is one of the most dangerous roads in town.

“In its current state it can’t be walked without danger, it can’t be cycled without danger,” he said. “And it can barely be driven without danger because of the state of the potholes.”

Phil Goguen of Kingfisher Road spoke against the project because of the price tag to the taxpayers.

“There are too many loose ends at this point,” he said. “Do a study first before you go out and ask for $3 million where you really don’t know what it’s going to cost.”

The plan, which required a two-thirds vote, was overwhelmingly approved, with only a few voicing opposition.

The project now requires a debt-exclusion override vote at next week’s Town Election before the money is appropriated. That would allow the town to raise property taxes temporarily to pay for the project. Once the project is paid for, the additional tax burden would go away.

The work will increase the average tax bill on a single-family home by about $42 a year, according to the Finance Committee.

Residents also approved $678,600 for capital projects from free cash. In the past, capital projects were funded through the operating budget, officials said.

The plan was supported by both selectmen and Finance Committee, with both admitting paying for capital projects with free cash will not be sustainable in the future.

“This is not a good long-term solution for next year and the year after,” said Selectman Patrick McNally. “We are looking to find ways to fund these. We haven’t come up with that yet.”