SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Plans to upgrade and renovate the Long Pond water pump station took a step forward at the special town meeting here Tuesday. Voters approved authorizing selectmen to enter into an agreement with the water and sewer district to pay back a half-million dollar bond for the project.
Residents were asked to vote on the issue because funding for the district was based on a town ordinance formed to serve the town’s water and sewer district.
The district’s trustees are “not allowed to enter into an agreement of that length without the approval of the legislative body,” Town Manager Justin VanDongen explained at the meeting.
Residents at the special town meeting voted on three warrant articles, outside of electing a moderator. On article two, regarding the bond funding, 71 people voted in favor of the agreement and five were opposed.
Not all residents of the town use are on the public water and/or sewer systems.
Between 2011 and 2016, an ordinance was in effect specifying that long-term bonds for water and sewer work would be a shared burden among all residents of the town. Any bonds with a lifespan of less than 20 years would be the responsibility of only the ratepayers in the public system.
When the new district was formed in 2016, it adopted the language of the ordinance as practice for bonds with a lifespan of 20 years or more.
Because the district is a quasi-municipal organization, not a town department, it is not able to create, use or enforce ordinances.
Voters approved entering into an agreement to help fund this bond on Tuesday, but may be asked to vote again on future projects.
One gentleman from the public asked if the town and the district could honor the former ordinance.
“I’m in favor of that vote,” said Selectman Kristin Hutchins in response. “But at the end of the day, you guys still have to decide … It’s still necessary for the taxpayers to approve expenditures.”
With a lifespan of 40 years, the $500,000 bond was something the district was willing to fund without the support of all taxpayers. An annual payment of $17,000 was manageable for ratepayers if all residents did not support funding the bond, district officials said at an informational meeting in October.
Recent emergencies at the station over the last couple of years prompted the Southwest Harbor Water and Sewer District to move forward on a construction project that is estimated to cost $537,320 and get started before the end of the year.
In order to get started, the district applied for and received a loan from a state revolving fund, some of which is a grant depending on how it’s allocated, according to an explanation under the warrant article.
The pump station building at the end of Long Pond was constructed before 1900 and the pumps within it are also more than 50 years old. Recent emergencies, including a pump failure, required the town’s fire trucks to help draw water to the filtration system on Long Pond Road.
District Manager Steve Kenney recently said it is difficult to guarantee the water supply with the current state of the system.