State cuts hurting Berlin water customers
BERLIN - The state's decision to defer payments promised to Berlin for its water and sewer upgrades will cost the city $5 million over the life of the bond issue, said Mayor Paul Grenier.
Grenier said the city is halfway through the project that included an upgrade to equipment and an increase in capacity at the water treatment plant. ?In November, the Berlin City Council passed a resolution calling upon state legislators to restore funding to the project, citing RSA 486 and RSA 486-A. That legislation authorized a grant program for communities to receive from 20 to 30 percent assistance toward principal and interest payments on eligible infrastructure projects. The resolution cited 124 municipal projects that were deemed eligible for the funding but did not receive money because the Legislature has deferred appropriations to the program since 2008.
The projects, the resolution states, were constructed in reliance of grant funding.
The backlog, according to the council's Resolution 2012-34, which passed on Nov. 19, includes "100 wastewater projects totaling more than $46 million; 17 public water supply projects totaling more than $7.5 million; and 7 landfill projects totaling more than $800,000 in grant requests."
This week, Grenier said the state's contribution of 20 percent was an obvious factor when the city was developing the project. In October, Conway selectmen heard from North Conway Water Precinct Superintendent David Brenier, who said that for two state budget cycles the precinct has not received promised grant funds. For the last four years, he said, the precinct has paid all the principal and interest due on bonds without the grant money.
Precinct consultant Bill Hounsell said at the time that they were asking the board to join with other towns in a letter asking then-candidates for the Legislature to restore the funding. At an earlier meeting, Hounsell said the North Conway Water Precinct is owed $615,000. The Conway Village Fire District, which supplies water and sewer in its district, has had to pass on costs incurred by the state's suspending its aid to its ratepayers.
Leah Valladares, municipal bookkeeper, said Thursday that if the state aid grant program were to fund the delayed and deferred list then the district would be eligible to receive $345,000, 30 percent of the $1,150,000 that it has already paid on bonds for projects approved by district voters in 2006.
"In addition," Valladares said, "Conway Village Fire District has a biannual Rural Development loan payment due in February and August each year of $252,772. Of that amount, 55 percent or $139,025 is wastewater related, and DES SAG should pay 30 percent of that value or $41,708 every six months. Over 26 years and a total of 52 payments, that would total $2,168,816. Currently, Conway Village Fire District has made three of these payments.
"If the State fulfilled its obligation today, they would owe $470,124.00 and continue the biannual payments of $41,708.00 for the remainder of the loan."
"There are currently 60 municipalities seeking payments from the environmental state aid grant program," stated Timothy Fortier, governmental affairs advocate with the New Hampshire Municipal Association. "All of these public works projects are complete and eligible for state grant assistance, although the state Legislature has not funded this account in FY's 09, 10, 11 and 12."
In the meantime, local ratepayers are making up the difference.
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Sara Young-Knox may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.