KEITH WHITCOMB JR., Staff Writer
BENNINGTON -- The Select Board voted unanimously Monday for a resolution that says it needs to go to voters for a bond that will fund an estimated $3.3 million water project, part of which Southern Vermont College has agreed to fund.
According to the resolution, the project will include the construction of a main line, pump station, and a 750,000-gallon water tank. In October, the board reached an agreement with SVC in which the college agreed to pay for half of the pump station, the main line, and the hookups to its campus buildings.
Town Manager Stuart Hurd said the resolution is necessary, as to bond for the money it must be shown the project is needed, benefits the community, and cannot be funded normally. Another hearing must be held, which can be consistent with the town’s annual meeting, and the bond must be noticed for a certain amount of days.
Hurd said the town’s portion of the project will be paid for by users of the system, which would mean a rate increase. What that will be will be made known prior to the bond vote, he said. Board member John McFadden had asked about the rate increase, saying that some months ago rates went up and it was said they would not go up again.
Hurd replied those increases were to cover the cost of depreciation. This is a capital project the voters can approve or not.
Payments on the bond would not have to begin until a year after the project is finished, Hurd said, allowing time for the town to budget properly.
"This is a unique opportunity for us, because we are partnering with Southern Vermont College on this project," said Hurd, adding that the college has land at the necessary elevation needed for the water tank, which will ensure adequate water pressure to the nearby Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, as well as the neighborhoods of Jefferson Heights and Crescent Boulevard.
He said the cost to get water from Monument Avenue to Hunter Hall will be shared between the town and college. The college pays for hookups to its buildings, while the town pays for moving water from the campus to the water tower, which is planned to be placed "discreetly above the Everett Mansion, hopefully out of sight for the college."
The college will pay off its portion of the loan annually, as will the town, and will become a regular water customer.
"It’s one of those projects that benefits not only the town, and the citizens, and the hospital, but it also benefits the college," said SVC President Karen Gross.
With the college’s size and continued growth, Gross said it would be best if it were on the town water system which is tested regularly. She said there have been minimal problems with the college’s wells.
"What we’re trying to do is curb, as we grow, the potential for more issues with respect to our water," she said, adding that the state is also encouraging the college, as it does most institutions that size, to make the change.
Hurd said the town is also being nudged by the state to have its own water concerns addressed starting in 2017.
"The numbers you have before you are estimates, and I think that’s important to recognize we’re all trying to keep the costs as low as possible, and the college is negotiating with the town on what our allocated share should be and I’m quite confident that we’ll come up with a number that’s fair," said Gross.
Hurd said the town and college’s share of the project has been recognized, and it is the cost of the project that is still being negotiated. If voters approve the bond in March, Hurd said the engineers are ready to bid the project as soon as legally possible. If done fast enough, the town could end up with some highly attractive bids. The current estimates could end up being low or high, but that is something that will be monitored so the college is not put in a difficult financial position.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.