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Salem rejects fee to fund road work

SALEM — Selectmen shot down a suggestion to create a capital reserve fund for future road repairs, which would have meant increasing vehicle registration fees by up to $5 each.

During Monday’s meeting, Finance Director Jane Savastano and Town Clerk/Tax Collector Susan Wall sought the option.

Savastano said that increasing fees to benefit the municipal road program is perfectly legal under state law and has been done in some communities since 1997.

“This would be one way for us to raise revenues,” Town Manager Keith Hickey said.

Savastano said she learned that the towns of Dover, Derry, Bedford, Claremont and Hanover charge residents an additional $5 fee on their car registrations as a way to help fund transportation improvement projects.

“I just think it’s worth bringing forward given the emphasis on roads recently,” Savastano said. “We do have a sizeable road program here.”

Although there was no official vote on the matter, board members overwhelmingly dismissed the suggestion on the grounds that most couldn’t fathom asking citizens to cough up more cash.

“I’m just not in favor of this,” Selectman Patrick Hargreaves said. “We’re trying to keep everything down as much as possible.”

Hargreaves said the increase would prove costly for those with multiple vehicles, noting that he has five cars and a motorcycle.

After learning that motorcycle registrations wouldn’t have been affected by the change, Hargreaves joked, “Oh great, I can drive my motorcycle in the wintertime!”

Selectman Stephen Campbell said he, too, wasn’t in favor of a $5 increase.

“I appreciate the staff offering us this opportunity, but I just think this would go against the goals of our board,” he said. “Registering our cars is expensive enough already, as are residents’ property taxes.”

According to Wall, Salem has conducted 2,700 vehicle registration renewals so far this year, meaning a $5 fee would have resulted in $13,500 in revenues toward a municipal road reserve fund.

Voters at the March 2013 Town Meeting approved Article 7, a $5.3 million item for road construction, repairs and engineering this year.

Still, the list of roads in need of attention is long, and those monies will be stretched pretty thin this year, according to town officials.

In late April, Town Manager Keith Hickey warned that some projects, particularly South Shore Road, won’t be up for repairs until 2020, despite the pleas from residents to make it happen sooner.

Town Engineering Director Robert Puff said it would cost just under $1 million to restore that one particular road and update the drainage system, with an addition $1.2 million needed to update the area’s sewer system.

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