Posted on 08 September 2013.
It seems that just about every time the town’s wastewater treatment plant is discussed in the context of who is paying for this recently-constructed piece of town infrastructure and who should actually be paying for it, someone will bring up “the referendum” to substantiate their point of view. So what exactly is “the referendum” on the wastewater treatment plant and what does it say about the size of the plant, its cost and who is to repay that cost? I spent some time in the Town Clerk’s vault researching the referendum and the following is what I found:
The current wastewater treatment plant, whose construction was completed in October 2010, can treat an average daily flow of 400,000 gallons per day. It is substantially larger than the wastewater treatment plant it replaced.
In order to build this new, much larger wastewater treatment plant, the town’s voters had to approve an increase in its size and cost. On June 24, 2004, the voters had already approved a 90,000 gallon-a-day wastewater treatment plant at a cost of $3,118,000.
The town was required by the state to upgrade its old treatment plant because the plant didn’t have the capacity to handle the daily flows and was contaminating the Farmington River. The state did not require the building of such a large wastewater treatment plant as we now have; the 400,000 gallon-a-day size was based on aggressive projections of the town’s future growth. Bill Baxter was First Selectman during this time.
The proposal to build the 400,000 gallons-a-day wastewater treatment plant at a cost of $8,950,000 (an increase of $5,832,000 above the cost approved in 2004) was brought to the town’s voters twice for their approval.
First Referendum Fails
The first referendum vote on approving the larger wastewater treatment plant took place on November 4, 2008, during the presidential election. The wastewater treatment plant question was the third question added to the ballot. The language of the question is given at the end of this article. The voters rejected the proposal, with 2,042 voting No and 1,812 voting Yes.
Earl MacInnes was the First Selectman at this time.
Second Referendum Passes
The second referendum vote on approving the larger wastewater treatment plant took place on February 12, 2009. The question on the wastewater treatment plant was the only one on the ballot. The language of the question being voted on is given at the end of this article. It is the exact, same language as the question that was voted down on November 4, 2008.
At this second referendum vote, the voters approved the proposal to build the larger, more expensive wastewater treatment plant, with 599 voting Yes and 239 voting No.
Split In the Payment For The Wastewater Treatment Plant
The split in how different parts of the community would be responsible for different percentages of the debt to build the new wastewater treatment plant was discussed at the Special Town Meeting held on January 29, 2009, a couple of weeks before the second referendum vote on February 12. That special town meeting was held to discuss the wastewater treatment plant proposal. At that Special Town Meeting Roy Litchfield, a member of the Building Oversight Committee (that oversaw the building of the wastewater treatment plant) and a member of the Board of Finance, gave a powerpoint presentation in which he presented the split:
“Based on revenue projections, 69% of the project will be funded by existing and future users of the system. 31% will be funded by all taxpayers.”
A member of the public asked what we could do to attract business. (First Selectman) Earl MacInness responded that the EDC (Economic Development Commission should engage in an aggressive marketing campaign.
A brochure was mailed to all residents after the Special Town Meeting and before the vote, informing residents that based on revenue projects the split in the payment for the plant would be as follows:
- 19% existing users of the system;
- 42% new users of the system;
- 39% all taxpayers.
This split, however, was not part of the question approved by voters at the second, February 12, 2009 referendum.
In the first referendum that failed, the split in who would be responsible for paying for the plant was projected to be 90% non-users/10% users. At a Special Town Meeting held on October 21, 2008, before the first referendum vote, Board of Finance member Jim Fitzgerald asked when the public would vote on the split? He was told by (First Selectman) Earl MacInness that the public would not be voting on the split. That discussion on the split is the responsibility of the Board of Finance.
Reconsidering The 61%/39% Split
The split in the payment of the debt for the construction of the wastewater treatment plant has been allocated as 39% all taxpayers and 61% users despite the lack of new users being added to the user base.
From the above, it appears that any change in the 61% users/39% non-user split now being applied to the payments being made on the wastewater treatment plant construction debt can be revisited by the Board of Finance, especially if the assumptions on which that split was based have changed.
Two assumptions behind the split have changed: First, the growth projections in the commercial user base have not been realized. Second, a sizable grant ($2.3 million +/-) was received from the USDA to be applied towards the cost of the wastewater treatment plant based on the lower income of the users of the plant.
Shall the Town of New Hartford increase the $3,118,000 appropriation and borrowing authorization approved at referendum held June 24, 2004 for Wastewater Treatment Facility Upgrades by $5,832,000 and amend the scope of the project to provide for the expansion of the existing 90,000 gallon-per-day Wastewater Treatment Facility to treat an average daily flow of 400,000 gallons-per-day?
Part 2 of this article exploring the original funding and the funding from the USDA will be published in our September 13 issue.
The above article first appeared in The INDEPENDENT Community newspaper.
The old wastewater treatment plant – the brick building on the left – is dwarfed by the new plant on the right and in the foreground. Photo taken in the summer of 2010 during construction of the new sewer plant. Photo: Maria Moore