Not this year, but bond for infrastructure renovations would have future impact
By JEFF EPSTEIN
WEST WINDSOR, Vt. — The town will ask voters to approve bonds totaling more than $1 million to renovate water and sewer infrastructure, and the projects are likely to eventually cause some increase to water and sewer rates, town officials say.
However, nobody knows now what the increases will be, if any, but both select board chair Win Johnson and members of the utility advisory committee said in a meeting Monday that no rate increases would happen this year.
When the rate increases can be estimated for future years, a combination of state subsidies and use of town reserves may soften the impact, they said.
In the meantime, the select board has already authorized two bond issues to go to the March 5 town meeting for approval. Johnson suggested the town may draft an informational document to clarify the water and sewer bonds before town meeting.
The articles to go to town meeting are a bond issue up to $700,000 for construction of sewer system improvements, and a bond issue up to $425,000 for the construction of water system improvements. Both are expected to have a 20-year term, Johnson said.
The select board received the results of a study by the engineering firm of Aldrich + Elliot of Essex Junction.
The water project consists of three major items: an emergency generator at the well, to be used to keep the water running in event of a power outage; the repair or replacement of what Johnson described as “two very old, weak lines” and an enclosure around the well to protect it.
A+E figures the water system has 268 users, company engineer Josh Booth told the utility advisory committee and town officials.
Annual debt service, which would not show up on the operating budget until 2021, is estimated at about $27,500 a year. However, “we’re expecting to offset that debt service,” Booth said.
The work on the well and lines is fairly straightforward, but the town may want to consider adding capacity for the future, he said. The water system uses two tanks, which are okay for now, but “they are the weakest point in the system … you’d want to look at a number of factors” and explore a variety of options for the future.
One of those options is metering water usage, which the town currently does not do. The water system is mostly for residential use, and has few industrial or commercial customers.
Metering would require purchasing and installing expensive equipment, for the purpose of tracking how much water customers use. Johnson appeared skeptical, noting that expense was “overhead.”
Even under a metered scheme, Booth said, a base rate would have to be charged, and the base rate would likely cover the town’s current expense.
The sewer line, with 313 users billed quarterly, was originally private property, but was purchased by the town.
As with the water line, a rate increase is possible in two years or so. However, Johnson said, there is “room to try to make the rate increase go away.”
If the bond issues are successfully passed, construction could start next autumn, Booth said.