Commentary: Vote for the Chester water project — at least vote

By Shawn Cunningham
©2015 Telegraph Publishing LLC

In less than two weeks, Chester voters will go to the polls again to vote on whether to go ahead with a $4 million upgrade to the municipal water system. At its most basic, the project will correct some major problems including insufficient pressure during fires and a lack of redundancy in water storage. The project will also replace 3,600 feet of crumbling concrete asbestos water main that may help alleviate the 30 percent leakage rate in the system.

Recently, an income survey of the water district found that that area has a far lower median household income than was used by the state’s drinking water loan fund to calculate a loan deal. The upshot is that instead of borrowing funds for the project at 3 percent for 24 years, the town can borrow at -1.5 percent for 30 years. That is right — negative one and a half percent. A negative interest rate acts like an additional payment – in this case reducing the cost of the project by a little over $800,000.

Also on the plus side are the reports that, in general, bids on municipal projects are coming in for less than the projected costs. As Water Superintendent Jeff Holden told a meeting earlier this year, there might never be a time when doing this project will be cheaper – and sooner or later this work will have to be done.

If this is such an important and needed project, why did less than 10 percent of the voter checklist show up for the May 19 election, passing it by just 26 votes? And how is it that even fewer voters turned out to defeat the ratification vote made necessary by an error in publishing the warning for the first vote properly?

Information handled badly from Day One

At least a part of the reason for the low turnout is that this has been a confused mess from the start. Long time Chester Telegraph readers will know that we have been reporting on the project in-depth. While the purchase of a large tract of  land for siting a new water storage tank may be the cheapest solution, it raised questions of conflict of interest that should have been brought to light and resolved at the start. Instead, the Chester Select Board held an executive session out of the sight of voters in which “the initial concept was put out,” giving the project an appearance of a “back-room deal.”

Next came the linkage of the water project with the use of the land purchased for the tank site as a source of gravel for the town Highway Department. The rudimentary business plan that came with the proposal did not take into account such hurdles (and expenses) as the Act 250 process for opening a pit. This muddied the water further and, even though the board later tried to decouple fixing the water system from developing a gravel pit, Town Manager David Pisha didn’t seem to be able to. Speaking at the Sept. 2 board meeting, Pisha referred obliquely to gravel saying, “This is a worst case, there are items that can make it better, but we’re not discussing them tonight.”

And when many voters asked questions about the project at public meetings, board members often equivocated and even expressed doubts and misunderstanding about the financing. It’s a wonder it passed in the first place.

The Telegraph believes that this is a necessary project. There is an amazing deal on the table in which the town borrows $3.7 million and only has to pay back $2.9 million and we are in a buyer’s market for construction projects.

The cost of this project (except a portion of the land purchase) will  be borne by the water users, but it is as low now as it will ever be and so we urge voters to vote “Yes.”

There will be a public hearing at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 28 at Town Hall, 556 Elm St. We also urge you, whether you are for the project or against it, to get out and vote on Tuesday, Sept. 29. If you are not registered to vote, you have until 4 p.m.  5p.m. Wednesday Sept. 23 to register at the Town Clerk’s office.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Filed Under: CommentaryFeaturedTelegraph Editorial

About the Author:

RSSComments (3)

Leave a Reply | Trackback URL

  1. John Holme says:

    I believe that the non-water users (of which I am one) should be on the hook for the cost of the land. As proposed, the Town would finance the land purchase with bonds at a very good rate. The Town would make payments on the bonds from the General Fund. This expense would be offset, at least in part, by savings the Town would realize on gravel, by using gravel from the land to be purchased. Seems like a good deal to me.

  2. Debbie Aldrich says:

    People have until 5 pm today to register to vote.

  3. Ron Jackson says:

    “The cost of this project (except a portion of the land purchase) will be borne by the water users”
    That is a major change to the “deal.” All along, we’ve been told this water project will be funded by water users. Now, the deal has changed. All of us non-water users in town are now on-the-hook for part of this project. I believe if this is explained clearly to the voters, it is going to be voted down overwhelmingly. Yes, the water system needs work. Yes, these are good rates for the loan. If it were strictly a “water project” I would be for it. Messing the whole project up by buying a huge tract of land with town (i.e. taxpayer) money ruins the deal.