DENNIS — Representatives from Harwich, Dennis and Yarmouth negotiating the DHY Clean Water Community Partnership got some insight about the shaping and function of a similar tri-town wastewater district off Cape.
Selectmen, finance committee members and members of wastewater support committees were in Dennis last Thursday night to hear from representatives of the Mansfield-Foxborough-Norton Regional Wastewater District. The district was formed in 2014 but the relationship tied to wastewater goes back much further.
The groups were brought together by CDM Smith, Inc, the engineering firm working with the DHY partnership to promulgate special legislation to establish the partnership and shape an operations agreement. The engineering firm was instrumental in shaping the MFN partnership, the first in the commonwealth.
The gathering was designed to help the three Cape communities better understand the process, benefits and issues as the process moves forward. While the reasons behind the formation of the partnerships varied to some degree, the cost-saving benefit to the communities from a regional treatment plant was clear.
The communities involved in the MFN district saw the opportunity to increase tax bases by expanding the commercial and industrial development along the Route 495 corridor, providing additional revenues to pay for needed infrastructure, including new schools. But nitrogen removal was also a component as the Taunton River Watershed empties in Narragansett Bay.
Mansfield built its treatment plant in 1985 on land in Norton and eventually the towns of Norton and Foxborough purchased treatment capacity from Mansfield through an intermunicipal agreement. District negotiations began in 2008 and special legislation was approved in 2010 establishing the district.
It took 30 meetings over four years to put an agreement in place. A seven-member commission was formed to govern the district, three from Mansfield and two each from the other towns. The commissioner appointments included a town administrator, selectmen, sewer commissioners and department of public works staff.
The MFN representatives urged the local group to focus on the big picture of regionalization versus the special interests of each community and not to lose sight of the goal.
Harwich Finance Committee Member Jon Chorey wanted to know if the commission could be elected.
Lee Azinheira, the MFN executive director, said they agreed to an appointed commission, explaining that allows inclusion of more professional such as technical and financial people rather than someone successful in running elections.
The agreement came about as Mansfield was looking at a $38 million expansion of its facilities. Capacity percentages were established for each town. Mansfield realized a 25 percent cost savings through the regional agreement.
“The new industrial zones would not have happened without the treatment plant,” Norton Town Administrator Michael Yunits said. “We were looking for the benefits of new development, tax additions. People were happy. Some sites were under-utilized and now could be added to the tax base.” Yunits also said a $200,000-a-year host community fee was worked out.
There was a lot of discussion about funding the associated capital costs. It was pointed out that decision was left up to each of the towns. Yunits said his town started out paying 50 percent of costs through taxes and 50 percent through betterment charges. Now the costs are all covered through sewer charges. He said 95 percent of town water flow costs are assessed for wastewater treatment.
There was much discussion about the collection systems and costs. David Young of CDM Smith, Inc. pointed out the collection systems in each community will be overseen and implemented by each town and will be responsible for about 70 percent of the cost.
Several of the DHY representatives raised issues about the loss of town meeting participation in district payments. Yunits said the commission gets its budget to the towns well in advance of town meeting and if issues are raised they are brought back and examined. The selectmen have a voice in the process, he said.
But District Commission Treasurer John Stanbook said if the town doesn't pay the district, the State Treasurer can place the assessment on the town's Cherry Sheet and it will come out of taxes. “No one's ever decided not to pay,” Stanbrook said. It was pointed out it would be tough for a town to borrow money without that Cherry Sheet provision.
The costs to the community is based on the capacity percentage it negotiates in the agreement. They do have
the ability to sell any extra capacity they might have, Azinheira said.
Harwich Selectman Ed McManus wanted to know how recharge is handled in the MFN District. Azinheira said it is done in one location because it is much more expensive to ship it back to the towns.
Harwich Town Administrator Christopher Clark asked if the district charges a different commercial and residential rates. Azinheira said the commercial rate is slightly higher because of treatment costs.
Yarmouth Selectman Tracy Post questioned the timeline that has been established for the DHY partnership agreement, noting the four years and 30 meeting it took to establish the MFN District. The schedule is extremely aggressive, she said, since it calls for a draft agreement by the end of November and local information meetings in February through April, with town meetings expected to address the agreement in May.
Young said the timeline is aggressive because the state grant assisting in facilitating the process closes out in June.
Noting the success of selling the MFN District to residents based on economic development, Post said, “Here we're talking about the environment and that's a harder sell.”
The word from the MFN District representatives in selling the partnership was “transparency.” They stressed the importance of communication with the individual town officials and the community at large.