Funding Source Stalls Harwich Sewer Modeling Contract

By: William F. Galvin

Sewer pipes. FILE PHOTO

HARWICH — There is no doubt in the minds of selectmen and members of the water/wastewater commission that a computer-aided design model for sewering throughout the town would be a valuable tool in developing a road map for moving forward with the comprehensive wastewater management plan. It's the funding that has drawn questions.

Selectmen last week were asked to approve a contract for $150,000 with GHD, Inc., the engineering firm that has already done a CAD modeling design for a section of Harwich Center. Town officials have been impressed with the detailed information in the design, and selectmen see expanding the design as a means of providing accurate cost estimates to the various phases of sewering. That would help eliminate financial problems in phase two of the plan, where contract bids in East Harwich were well over budget.

But funding for the CAD modeling was not contemplated in the FY21 budget approved by town meeting in September. Water/Wastewater Superintendent Dan Pelletier was before selectmen last week with a proposed funding package for the model, suggesting that two town meeting appropriations in which funds remain could be used to cover the cost of the contract.

Pelletier said $98,992 remains in article 17 of the 2007 town meeting, in which $500,000 was borrowed for the comprehensive wastewater management plan. The second appropriation is the FY21 sewer operating budget for the phase two project in East Harwich, which had anticipated completion of the project this month. An updated schedule identifies completion in May.

“As a result, flow variable payments, contract operations and other operational expenses will be deferred, leaving funds available to support the model,” Pelletier told selectmen. The plan is to use $51,008 from that budget and the $98,992 from the 2007 appropriation to cover the CAD modeling contract. Pelletier sought approval from both selectmen and the water/wastewater commission to use the funds, and said the proposal has been vetted by Finance Director Carol Coppola.

“The modeling effort is well worth it,” Selectmen Chairman Larry Ballantine said. “The question is how do we pay for it.”

Selectman Michael MacAskill called the 2007 funds “found money,” and said residents of East Harwich and across town have no confidence in the selectmen given the shortfall in the funding for phase two of the sewering. That could be a $12 million mistake, given the need to go back to town meeting for funds to complete the sewer project in East Harwich, he said.

While MacAskill said he supports the CAD modeling for the entire sewer project, he does not support spending the found money without going back to town meeting for approval. He said the board should be telling the taxpayers what the plan is instead of just spending the money.

“We look at the CAD program to address just these kinds of issues you raised,” Ballantine said to MacAskill. He agreed the board should look at this issue and then revisit the funding request.

The following day the water/wastewater commission took up the funding issues.

Commission member Allin Thompson wanted to know what the timeline is and whether there is time to go to town meeting for direction on the re-use of these funds.

“The world is not going to collapse if we delay six months,” Pelletier said. But he added that the CAD modeling would save on designs for installing new water mains along Route 28 and assist with coordination of a simultaneous sewering project with the potential for savings. Pelletier also said the designs could assist the town should a decision be made to enter into a third contract to complete the East Harwich sewer project.

The modeling program is a sewer road map that would provide the town with more accuracy and better cost estimates, Thompson said. “It’s like a plan to build your house with all the details,” he said.

Commission chairman Gary Carreiro said he also favored the modeling program, but was concerned about the use of the 2007 funds. He also supported bringing a funding request to town meeting for a vote.

“The $98,000 has been sitting in a cup for 14 years,” he said. “Something should have been done with that. It should have been used.”

“There are all kinds of articles sitting around,” Thompson said. “This is not the first. We should go through these articles.”

“This piece of the sewer plan is critical to make the next project smoother. I say we move forward,” commission member Judith Underwood said.

An amendment to the town charter approved in the June election requires that modification to a previously approved capital plan receive a two-thirds vote of town meeting.

“That may also be a non-starter,” Pelletier said.

Thompson ask Pelletier to put together a package of information on what the commission must vote on and consider creating a town meeting article if a vote on the funding sources is needed.