Water Company hopes to turn to taxpayers for project

Wed, 11/27/2019 - 6:30pm
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Members of the Water Commission hope that town residents will offer some financial support for a water main replacement project they say is of vital importance to the entire island.

The High Street/Payne Road water main replacement project is one of the most expensive the department has undertaken. It is expected to cost $2.25 million, according to Water Company Supt. John Breunig. While Breunig hopes to secure federal grant and loan monies that could cover up to 55 percent of the cost, Water Commission Chair Brad Marthens had hoped to socialize up to 25 percent of the remaining costs among island taxpayers.

“I don’t want the cost falling completely on our ratepayers,” said Marthens at the Commission’s meeting on Monday, Nov. 18. “If this water main fails, then the island will be up the creek — so to speak. I’m pushing for approaching the town for 25 percent of the bonding.”

The motion to approve asking the town for 25 percent of the cost must first be approved by the Town Council, and, if that occurs, the bond issue will appear on the warrant at the Financial Town Meeting in May 2020.

“If the town takes its time getting back to us on this, for a whole host of reasons, then we can still move forward on this,” said Commissioner Pete McNerney.

“I want to make a formal, clear-cut request,” said Marthens.

“For a percentage?” asked McNerney.

“Yes,” answered Marthens.

Breunig said there was some urgency in getting the issue before the Town Council. “There is a case for moving this along. It takes 45 days to advertise for the loan. We don’t want to kick the can,” he said. Breunig said he had time to prepare to meet with the Council at its scheduled meeting on Dec. 3.

Breunig had prepared a chart for the commissioners showing how the debt service would be impacted by taxpayer participation.

While the cost of the project is expected to be $2.25 million, the federal loan would cover $1,237,500 of that, leaving $1,012,500 to be covered by water company ratepayers.

If voters eventually approve covering 25 percent of the cost of the project, that would reduce that $1.23 million by $309,375. The tax rate impact would be $7.16 per $1 million valuation.

“I’d like to poll everyone’s opinion. I’d like it to be 20 to 25 percent,” said Marthens.

“I’d like to hear from finance,” said McNerney. Town Finance Director Amy Land was in the audience.

“I think this is a policy question for the Commission,” she said, but added that the High Street/Payne Road water main “serves all of downtown. It’s hard to argue that there isn’t a benefit” to the entire island.

“What if it doesn’t pass at the Town Council or at the Financial Town Meeting?” asked Commissioner Kathy Szabo. The question was not answered, and the Commissioners wanted to stress the importance of the water main to the entire town, and especially the downtown district.

Land also said that there would need to be three questions on the warrant at the Financial Town Meeting. The first question would be to ask for the percentage of coverage. The second question would ask that voters understand that the Water Company would fulfill the commitment to paying for the bond. The third question would ask that if the federal grant fell through, then the Water Company ratepayers would pay the entire $2.25 million cost.