The Select Board recently received the following questions. As we prepare for the bond vote on June 17, I thought it would be helpful to answer the questions and share those answers with the community.
What is the exact state mandate that we are responding to/how many houses are involved?
The mandate is included in the VT DEC Water System Permit to Operate. It states that "Inadequate water pressure under peak and maximum flow conditions (fire flow) is a violation. It then provides a schedule for compliance. "On or before Dec. 1, 2018, the Permittee shall make all improvements to the south end of the water distribution system, within the low water pressure zone ... "
A count indicates that roughly 195 properties are impacted. I would estimate that 90 percent are residential.
What other options and sites have been looked at and rejected and why? What options do not include the expense of including Southern Vermont College?
This low-pressure zone has been studied by town-hired engineers for many years. It has been determined that the easterly slopes of Mt. Anthony offer the optimal location for the tank. Due to system configuration, the system can not otherwise be modified to meet the demand. A new pressure zone must be created to serve this area adequately. The pump station is also at its optimal location because it can serve this new zone and provide redundancy for the pressure zone to the north (Old Bennington and the west end). By allowing SVC to tie in to the system, we solve its water system problems, pick up a fairly large paying customer, and SVC pays its expenses to connect as well as contributes more the $500,000 to the project. This will save the ratepayers a minimum $36,400 per year, and roughly $728,000 over the life of the bond.
What impact will this project have on development on Monument Avenue Ext.? Will the town be coming forward shortly after this project to ask for funding for sewer lines to keep up with municipal water expansion?
This project is not an expansion project. It would permit some new customers to connect, but there are not many homes in this area, nor will the line improvements allow for many new customers. This is a system improvement project, much the same as other projects we've undertaken over the last decade.
Why has there been no conversation about amending how municipal water infrastructure is paid for and why are you not reexamining the charter based on constituents concerns brought forward by this project?
In fact, the direction of most development and other costs, such as waste removal, are in the "user pays" direction. However, if this project were shown to enhance the entire community, some of the bond costs could be spread over the entire community. That would be a difficult argument to make.
Why are North Bennington residents voting on this bond when they only use Bennington Sewer? Don't they have their own water system?
North Bennington residents are residents of the Town. Their property is included as collateral should the Water Fund fail to meet its obligations.
What other funding has been sought?
There are no longer any grant opportunities for this kind of project. One good source of additional revenue is SVC, a new system user. It is estimated the college will pay $14,000 annually for water use. According to our estimates, the bond will cost users less than $.08 per day.
What plans are there to budget a reserve fund from the existing water charges in preparation for this bond reducing future costs to the ratepayers when the bond comes due?
Reserves have been increased over the years to allow for infrastructure upkeep. In fact, currently, the system reserves total $105,000; the capital reserves total $107,000. These funds can be used to minimize bond costs in the future, if necessary. Our projections indicate that should not be necessary.
Stuart A. Hurd is Bennington's town manager