HARWICH — Town officials got a close look Monday night at the capital plan and what it means for taxpayers going forward. The plan recommends $13 million in projects in FY18, driven primarily by more than $4 million in wastewater infrastructure.
“The sale of wastewater is the elephant in the room,” Capital Outlay Committee Chairman Richard Larios told the gathering of selectmen and finance committee members in attendance when Town Administrator Christopher Clark updated seven-year capital plan on Monday night. Larios was referring to the need for town officials to be able to get voters to understand the importance of addressing wastewater issues in the community.
The town's comprehensive wastewater management plan cites the need to spend more than $200 million in developing wastewater infrastructure over the next 40 years. It gets underway in earnest when voters will be asked in the May town meeting to fund $4.4 million for wastewater projects.
The capital plan has four proposed wastewate-related debt exclusion articles designated for town meeting, including $2.5 million for a collection system design and construction for East Harwich; $1 million for the intermunicipal agreement with Chatham to process wastewater; $200,000 for design and construction of a Cold Brook attenuation system; and $150,000 for CWMP implementation services. There is also a request for the use of $550,000 in Community Preservation Act funds to restore water quality in Hinckley's Pond.
“Wastewater is choking our estuaries and it needs to be cleaned up,” Selectman Peter Hughes said. “If we don't do it it will impact our seven different watersheds. And someone else, a judge or court system, will force upon us the way to do it and in a way we haven't considered.”
Looking seven years out, the plan shows a couple of large bumps in wastewater infrastructure spending. In FY20 the second phase of the CWMP has a placeholder, an estimate of $25,450,000, and in FY 24 another $12,860,000 is scheduled to implement phase three of the plan.
Finance committee member Dana DeCosta raised the issue of funding, stating it appears the wastewater projects will all be done through taxation. The capital plan cites debt exclusion as the source of funding. He asked if there would be any fee assessments.
Clark said a couple of options have been considered, including a wastewater infrastructure fund through a 3 percent surcharge, but “it did not see the light of day.” Through debt exclusion the town can time projects and use the money when necessary, he said, adding wastewater needs to be addressed in just 50 percent of the town.
“But the debt exclusion will provide for 100 percent of the town paying for the problem because 100 percent of the town is creating that problem,” Clark said.
“I agree, but I wanted to hear it said,” responded DeCosta.
Clark had representatives of Hilltop Security before the board to provide an assessment of costs associated with the capital planning process given the financial weigh of existing and proposed debt exclusions, including major projects such as wastewater, a Cape Tech school project and Saquatucket Harbor projects.
In that presentation it was pointed out the existing debt exclusion impact on an average single family home with a $350,000 value is $170, but by FY21 the amount paid to cover debt exclusions will increase to $310 on the average tax bill. Those numbers will drop through 2025, but will bump up again to just over $300 after the town funds phase two of the CWMP. From that point the annual payment on the debt service gradually declines.
While the FY18 capital plan recommendations carry a $13,166,395 price tag, there was great praise for the work the town administrator and the capital outlay committee did in putting the plan together. Finance Committee Chairman Jack Brown acknowledged “the great work” they did.
Among the projects driving the FY18 capital plan is $3 million for the Saquatucket Harbor landside renovations and improvements and $1.9 million in public works projects, including $1.4 million for road maintenance, of which $700,000 will come from Chapter 90 funds and $700,000 from debt exclusion. There is a request for $150,000 for designs for improvements to Route 28 in West Harwich with construction anticipated to be provided through federal Transportation Improvement Program funds.
There is a request for $1.2 million for golf operations and maintenance improvements for Cranberry Valley Golf Course, but it was pointed out 90 percent of those funds would be covered by golf fees.
The majority of the FY18 capital projects, $8,010,000, would be funded through debt exclusion, $1,155,975 is sought through Community Preservation Act funding and another $1.1 million would come from free cash. Maintenance and enterprise funds, Chapter 90, grants and a capital exclusion would be used in funding the FY18 capital requests.