The citizens of New Canaan have a great opportunity on April 27 to engage in the most democratic activity possible: a referendum, which is a popular vote on a town-wide issue.

There will be just one question: "Shall the action taken by the Town Council on February 16, 2011, approving a $4 million appropriation and bond resolution for the Town's road network be repealed and overruled and returned to the Board of Finance for reconsideration?" (The wording of the question is the work of Chris Jarboe, town attorney.)

A "yes" vote means the Board of Finance and Town Council made a mistake by including language in the subtext of the bond which allows funds to be diverted from the main purpose -- repairing New Canaan's existing road network -- and spent on new infrastructure projects.

At stake is whether some $4 million in borrowed money will be spent exclusively on what the bonding issue was intended to support, namely the Town of New Canaan's Pavement Management and Improvement Program. The extent of road disrepair and degradation in New Canaan is so great that $4 million will pay for only a start on restoring our roads back to a satisfactory condition.

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The problem is that the wording in the bonding issue permits the diversion of an unspecified amount for work that is not road repair per se. Out of the $4 million to be bonded, at least $600,000 is targeted for diversion to build new sidewalks on one side of lower Main Street and a short section of Old Norwalk Road.

In the belief that public money should be used to provide the greatest good to the greatest number, a group of concerned residents created New Canaan Citizens for Responsible Spending. Previous efforts to convince Town Council to send the bonding issue back to the Board of Finance to remove language allowing the bond proceeds to be used for new construction projects, such as new sidewalks, had been unsuccessful.

The only way to prevent the unrestricted spending of road repair funds on non-road-repair projects was to petition for a referendum. The petition effort was successful because residents from all over town recognized correctly that repair of their degraded roads could be delayed if any road-repaving funds were diverted to another use.

In fact, the Department of Public Works acknowledged at the April 11 Town Council meeting that if $600,000 was spent on the new sidewalk projects this year, that amount would be deducted from the $2 million available to pave roads on the 2012 list. About 30 percent of the 2012 paving projects would need to be postponed until another road paving bond is issued or additional funds are appropriated.

New Canaan's debt is well more than $130 million; the bonding issue will, obviously, add to that. The use of a single cent of this soon-to-be-borrowed money for anything other than necessary road repair is not wise, in the view of Citizens for Responsible Spending.

Citizens for Responsible Spending is not opposed to sidewalks in our town. But right now, we are in the midst of an economy that is causing many people to make hard choices in their own lives between what is essential and what would be nice to have. The Town of New Canaan must make the same hard choices when decisions are made about the spending of public money. Indeed, in January 2011, the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance and Town Council set a budget goal of no increase in operational and capital spending. Decisions about whether to fund "nice-to" projects out of borrowed (bonded) money should follow the same guidelines.

The greatest good for the greatest number must be the guiding principle at all times. For the road-repair bonding issue, that means using all of it to fix our roads.

A "yes" vote on April 27 will send the clear message that the road-repair bonding issue should be repealed as it is currently written and sent back to the Board of Finance for "reconsideration" -- in other words, to have the text permitting construction of new infrastructure projects, such as new sidewalks, removed, thus directing that every dollar of the $4 million be spent on road repaving and repair. New Canaan Citizens for Responsible Spending urges everyone whose road needs repair to vote YES on April 27.