Middlebury water bond planned

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury voters will be asked this summer to endorse a $3 million, 20-year bond to chip away at a mounting backlog of needed repairs to the town’s water system infrastructure.
The backlog comes in part as a result of town officials’ decision to apply a substantial portion of Middlebury’s water fund budget toward upgrades near the Cross Street Bridge project. Town officials stressed that the improvements now being made near Court Street have nothing to do with the massive bridge project, and therefore cannot be defrayed through that $16 million budget. Rather, officials decided that since the Cross Street area was being torn up by bridge work anyway, it made sense to make water system upgrades in that area at the same time rather than wait a few years and tear into the ground again.
“What we are doing in fact … is accelerating some needed upgrades and renewals in areas that are affected by the bridge project, out of the normal time range, to make them work efficiently so that they need not be undone later on,” said Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny.
At that same time, making that early investment in Cross Street-area water infrastructure has put a big strain on Middlebury’s water capital fund.
Middlebury Assistant Town Manager Joe Colangelo said plans call for around $447,000 in water-related improvements to be made in the Cross Street area, a sum that he noted has virtually exhausted the municipal “water capital improvement fund.”
Not wanting to delay other necessary water repairs, Colangelo and Middlebury Director of Operations Dan Werner suggested that the town take advantage of the current low municipal bond rates (now hovering between 3 percent and 4 percent) to generate enough cash to chip away at water-related projects in other parts of town.
Colangelo stressed that the $3 million bond — if endorsed by voters, perhaps as soon as July 13 — would not result in any increase in the municipal water rates. That’s because annual revenues passing into the water fund would comfortably exceed the bond debt service, with reserves left over for other capital projects, according to Colangelo.
Selectmen at their meeting last Tuesday took a look at a list of 20 potential water system projects throughout town. The work locations include Foote Street, Stewart Lane, Butternut Ridge, Route 7 South, Painter Hills Road, Woodland Park, Washington Street, Meadow Way and Buttolph Drive. Colangelo said the list of 20 projects would have to be prioritized (as it amounts to more than $4.4 million) and the work would likely have to occur over the course of three fiscal years.
“You can’t do $3 million in projects in one summer,” Colangelo said.
Middlebury Town Manager Bill Finger acknowledged that a $3 million surge in water system upgrades would only be scratching the surface of the total need.
“Our major goal is to catch up. But we aren’t under any illusion that we are taking care of all the problems and that we will somehow end up at point five years from now where we will have no projects (to do),” Finger said.
Plans call for selectmen to officially authorize a July 13 bond vote at their next meeting, on June 8.
In other action on Tuesday, Middlebury selectmen:
• Approved a fiscal year 2011 Water Department spending plan of $1,066,251, representing a $32,683 increase compared to this year. The budget maintains in place the current rates and rate structure of $30 (base rate) and $2.98 per 1,000 gallons used over the 3,000-gallon minimum.
• Endorsed a fiscal year 2011 Wastewater Fund spending plan of $2,215,980, which calls for a $29,718 bump compared to this year. The spending plan maintains the same rates and rate structure of $36 (base rate) and $7.78 per 1,000 gallons used over the 3,000-gallon minimum.
• Agreed to spend up to $5,000 of a gift from the Battell Trust for an appraisal of 40 acres of forested land on the eastern slope of Chipman Hill that the Middlebury Area Land Trust would like to conserve. The land is owned by the Co-operative Insurance Company and was once slated for a major housing development. The appraisal, according to MALT Executive Director Josh Phillips, will also reflect development scenarios.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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