The bond was last brought to a vote in March at the district’s annual meeting. It was defeated 36-35.
At Thursday evening’s hearing, Prudential Committee chair Cindy Frere said the committee had made an effort since the failed vote to “sharpen their pencils,” noting that the presence of new committee members Brendan Ryan and Karl Braunbach has energized the committee’s work.
Ryan said that last year, he was among the members of the public and found himself wishing he had more information about what the bond would accomplish. To that end, Ryan prepared a thorough PowerPoint presentation that explained the proposed changes, the associated costs, and the reasons the Prudential Committee feels those changes are necessary.
Per Ryan’s presentation, the major components of the updates would include UV and screen upgrades,$70,000; clarifiers, $1 million; biosolids removal technology, $500,000; pond liners, $1.4 million; a sprayfield renovation, $450,000; yard piping, $300,000; ADA compliance and access work, $65,000; and design, fees, and contingency, $1.1 million. Broken down, the project would be 73% renovations, 4% additions to the plant to ensure the safety of the plant’s crew and longevity of the equipment, and 23% design, fees, and contingency.
Ryan said that the Prudential Committee sees these changes as necessary for carrying out their charge to uphold the bylaws of the North Branch Fire District, specifically pointing to bylaws that charge the committee “to protect our environment and our waters for the benefit of this and future generations” and “to reserve, repair, upgrade and remodel a treatment plant and its facilities in order to attain and retain its designed capacity and to do what is lawful.”
Ryan said the Prudential Committee feels that the bond, which would have 2% interest and would be paid back over 20 years starting in 2020, is the best way to finance the improvements. “We feel this is the most cost effective way for all rate payers to finance these improvements,” said Ryan. “If anyone has a better way to finance it than 2% over 20 years, then we’re happy to hear those suggestions.”
In a question from the floor, Ronald Frere asked if costs would be significantly higher if the Prudential Committee didn’t make changes proactively and instead borrowed money through a loan. Ryan said costs would almost certainly be higher for users in that scenario, noting that the plant needs to remain operational if something breaks.
Braunbach noted that repairs done proactively are often done with more thought and care than those that are an attempt to get things back up and running. “There are cost savings to be had by acting in an organized manner,” said Braunbach.
Cindy Frere noted that the Prudential Committee has the authority to borrow for repairs or upgrades. “But if we do a loan the best we can get is 4%,” said Frere. “This is a bond at 2% that doesn’t hit your bills until 2020.”
Also on the ballot will be articles pertaining to establishing a capital reserve fund for the district and exempting certain town buildings including the fire department, police department, school, and town offices from sewer taxes.
“(Exempting town properties) was voted down at the annual meeting but the whole board believes that they should be tax exempt so that’s why we put it back on the ballot,” said committee member Tom Ferrazza.
“For years we’ve been able to go to the highway department if we need equipment and they’ve provided it,” said Braunbach. “They provide us with labor and everything else. It’s been a handshake agreement, and it’s a big help.”
“We are also tax exempt with the town,” said fire district administrative manager Linda Holland. “They don’t tax us for the facility, which is a huge savings. So there is even more to it than just the highway.”
Polls will be open from 10 am to 6 pm at North Branch Fire District #1, 78 Dorr Fitch Road.