The Board of Finance, at its Wednesday meeting last week, shot down the biggest roadwork request in Public Works Director Rich White's 25 years on the job.

White was seeking $8.7 million in funding for essential infrastructure improvements -- $7.5 million of which was for paving and other related work - but the board, after hours of debate, decided to split the appropriation into two separate bond resolutions.

The road reconstruction work - which involves resurfacing roads by bringing roads down to their base and laying down new asphalt on that base -- failed as a result of a 4-4 vote.

However, $1.2 million was unanimously approved for 9,400 feet of sidewalk construction in high priority areas; 760 feet worth of guardrail work; improving the Fairfield Woods Road/Melville Avenue intersection that will improve traffic flow and provide for safer pedestrian crossing; and lastly, rebuilding the Cornell Road bridge, which has been rated by the state to be in poor condition.

The board spent most of the three hours debating the $8.7 million request related to the road construction aspect and the correct way to fund the appopriation.

In these current economic times, the board was not quick to put the funding in the proposed 2010-2011 operating budget. Other options are to bond the work or perhaps decrease the term of the bond for 20 years to shorter maturity.

Paving, based on funding history, has not been paid for in the same manner year in and year out. Where, for instance, the building of a school is always bonded, roadwork has been bonded in some years, put in the operating budget in others, and in some years, paving was paid for by both bonding it and including it in the operating budget.

Board of Finance Chairman Tom Flynn said the board just could not reach agreement last week on what to do.

"In my opinion, based on public comments, the majority of the board saw the need for the work to be accomplished," he said. "However, we could not come to a majority/consensus on the best way to fund the appopriation. There was concern expressed about whether bonding funding for road work was prudent or whether those amounts should be included in the operating budget of the town, which could require them to be paid for through a larger tax increase in the next fiscal year as well as future years."

While there is a half million dollars already in the proposed budget for paving, according to Paul Hiller, the town's fiscal officer, an extra $7.5 million is not so easy to include.

"These times require a delicate balancing act of the town's financial needs with the desire to keep the tax burden low on taxpayers, who continue to struggle with very challenging economic times and their own personal financial needs," Flynn said. "The board is working hard to balance these issues and make the best decision for the town and its taxpayers in both the short run and the long run."

Flynn added that in recent years, the cost for materials - mostly asphalt (a petroleum-baed product), has gone up substantially.

"This has caused issues in many municipal budgets across the state and country," he said. "Mr. (Paul) Hiller and Mr. (Ken) Flatto have explained to our board on numerous occasions that many towns - including Greenwich, and, I believe, Norwalk, have bonded projects such as this to take advantage of lower interest rates and spread the cost burden to taxpayers over the years for what is considered a `long-lived asset.'"

Flynn also said that over the past 10 years or so, the town has not kept up with its stated goal of refurbishing approximately 13.5 miles of road each year. On average, according to Department of Public Works documents, the town has refurbished approximately nine miles of road each year over the past 10 years.

"Therefore," Flynn said, "The town is `behind' in its program, and, per the First Selectman and DPW representatives, was requesting this one-time catch-up appropriation."

Board of Finance member Kevin Kiley, the previous chairman, told the Fairfield Citizen, "Personally, I favor a financially prudent transition plan for town paving, which includes migrating paving expense out of capital non-recurring (aka bonding) into the operating budget over a two-to-three-year-period.

"Doing it this way allows us to pave the roads that desperately need to be fixed without increasing this year's budget by an additional $7.5 million dollars, which the taxpayers cannot afford. Part of that process would include a one-time bonding resolution to get caught up on paving that would allow us to build up the operating budget over two to three years. This transition plan would allow the town to pave the 13 to 15 miles of road that are required each year without a significant impact to the taxpayers."

Kiley said he proposed such a plan at last week's Board of Finance meeting but did not adequate support.

White said if the board had approved the paving request and put it in the operating budget, work could have started as early as May.

The finance board is scheduled to discuss the paving request again on April 6.