State Representative Bill Straus gave his word to the Marion Board of Selectmen on January 30 that as the town’s legislator and one who regularly “bumps” into the governor, he would advocate for the full $2 million share of a state bond bill to be granted to the Town of Marion to assist in the cost of upgrading its wastewater treatment facility.
The three selectmen met with Straus during an early morning Wednesday meeting to talk about the Sewer Enterprise Fund’s $18,805,000 outstanding debt and the additional $2,500,000 debt to be issued in fiscal year 2020 to cover the cost of the lining of the wastewater treatment plant’s lagoon 1 and associated plant upgrades.
According to a handout provided by the board, Marion’s 1,692 sewer ratepayers in 2018 generated $2,768,807 in revenue, covering the $2,422,601 in expenses, of which $1,321,214 is debt service. For every $2 million of debt, the average annual sewer bill goes up by 4% to 7% depending on the interest rate. What’s more, the selectmen anticipate having to spend an additional $5 million in wastewater upgrades over the next few years just to satisfy the immediate mitigation measures mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.
“All this is going to drive up sewer rates because it’s going to drive up debt service,” said Selectman John Waterman. “What really concerns us is this is really going to go up from here … and it’s going to drive up the sewer rates and it’s already a hardship.”
Which is why selectmen are hoping Straus can assist them in getting a $2 million piece of the state’s $1 billion pie served up specifically for capital, with a portion of it reserved explicitly for projects like this in municipalities located on Buzzards Bay.
“[For which] Marion is eligible under the terms of the statute. … No one else qualifies under these terms, and we wrote it that way,” Straus said, “for resiliency projects under this, and we will be asking for the full $2 million under the bond.”
In the meantime, however, the Town must have its $2,500,000 lagoon 1 lining project completed by December 1 of this year, and if – with an emphasis on the uncertainty of the outcome – the Town is allotted $2 million or any amount less than that, funding won’t be available until at least July 1 at the start of fiscal year 2020. The contract for the project will be awarded to the winning bid within a month’s time and signed so that construction can begin in the spring in order to meet the December 1 deadline for completion.
Straus added that the governor just about two weeks ago announced a new tax the state will impose on real estate transactions to fund a program for towns to address climate change related storms resiliency.
“I’m not in any way suggesting you wait for that,” Straus said, given the time constraints on Marion’s impending projects. For now, Straus told the board, “My suggestion is we think in terms of an initial meeting of some sort within the month at a higher level at the Boston office. … The timing is good in terms of, traditionally, this is the time over the next two and three months when the administrator of finance is weighing requests for bond proceed money from all the agencies. This is the time those numbers are being collected.”
The state will not announce bond proceeds to state departments until at least April, Straus stated.
“Obviously, you need things earlier [than April]. I’m going to predict that … you’re going to have to be committing to the contract, and at the same time saying we’re hoping to get this $2 mill fed into the ledger, but you have to operate as if it’s not going happen. You just have to move ahead.”
“In a perfect world,” commented Marion Town Administrator Paul Dawson, “everything goes just the way we want it to go.”
“If [the state] identifies this project they’ll say, hopefully, the full $2 million will be available … some time during fiscal year 2020,” Straus said.
“With all the things on that list,” Waterman wondered, “how does he (the governor) know [Marion’s project] is the one that he needs to keep on the list?”
“How do we get to him?” Finance Director Judy Mooney asked Straus.
“People bump into him, I assume,” said Straus. “I will be very active. I’m sure [Senator Marc Pacheco] will as well. It’s right to say – to the extent that other people who feel they have relationships [with the governor] – if they can say Marion is in need, they should.”
Marion Board of Selectmen
By Jean Perry