Marion delves into water and wastewater at Town Meeting

May 14, 2019

MARION — Voters at the first night of Town Meeting on May 13 approved a $3 million upgrade for the town’s wastewater treatment plant and various other water and sewer upgrades after questions and debate.

Town Meeting voters approved water and sewer enterprise fund expenses, approved a $3 million spend for the town’s wastewater treatment facility, okayed improvements in UV disinfectation for the filter building, voted in favor of a wastewater management plan, approved water main extensions on Point Road and Sparrow Lane and appropriated funds for the Water Department to purchase wireless controls on the water system. 

“You’ll have to contain your disappointment that this doesn’t relate to to water and sewer,” Selectman John Waterman joked, when the meeting moved on to talking about a fire station roof.

When the Selectmen presented the costs for the water and sewer enterprise, one resident asked why almost all of the costs had risen.

Marion’s Finance Director Judy Mooney explained that the rates did go up a little bit more than normal but that was because of a recent study on the Department of Public Works. She also explained that Marion will use some of the water reserves to lower water rates.

Another resident asked how much the town planned to spend on water mains each year.

“We’re basically trying to do one a year,” Waterman said. “If you look at our roads and sidewalks that’s what our pipes look like underground, so we have a lot of catch up to do.”

In presenting the wastewater facility modifications, Selectmen emphasized that because a bid from a contractor came in more than two million dollars higher than they anticipated, the town has been forced to seek an extension on a required lagoon lining to June 2020.  They said that this extension is already approved by state Environmental Protection Agency and they anticipate being approved by the federal organization as well. 

One commenter expressed shock that some 1,700 ratepayers for the sewer would to handle more than $6 million in expenses, nearly a quarter of the town’s budget spread over various articles. His comment was met with applause.

Steve Kokkins, however pointed out that people who install private systems must also pay large amounts for upgrades or on compliance.

Steve Nojeim noticed that the town had sent out a request asking residents to write letters to Charlie Baker in support of a $2 million grant. Nojeim wanted to know if that $2 million could cover some of the $3 million total.

Selectmen responded that the grant that may replace some of the cost, but they do not have a commitment from the Governor, so it is difficult to budget. Nojeim suggested everyone in room write to Baker, a suggestion that was met with applause.

Jen Stewart asked how much would the tax increase be for a ratepayer?

Mooney responded that it would be between three and eight percent for a ratepayer on the base rate, and range from four to 11 percent on the tiered system. 

Joseph Zora had multiple questions, and wanted to be sure that the town does not switch to shipping wastewater to Wareham after investing significant amounts to improve the town facility.

The town also considered a one time increase on the tax rate to develop a comprehensive wastewater management plan.

One of the authors of the RFP on the plan laid out the benefits of approving such a plan. The town has not had one in 20 years, he said and should have developed one in 2010.

“That’s why we are where we are today,” he said. “If we had had a plan 10 years ago that spending would have been spread over a greater period of time, there may have been more ratepayers,” he added.

Many of the other water articles were funded by sewer ratepayers However, this one would be paid for by all town residents.

“Is a regional plan going to be looked at? Absolutely. Is alternate treatment going to be looked at? Absolutely. Is increasing the capacity of this current system going to be looked at. Absolutely.” the RFP author said, in response to various questions on water articles.

He explained that if the voters were to approve a plan “We won’t have these bursts of spending. We won’t have $7 million to approve at a Town Meeting,” he said. The motion passed.

Town Meeting voters also approved a plan to extend a Mill Street water main though they did have some safety concerns. One concerned man said that in the area of the current County Road project he has observed people driving on the wrong side of the road to avoid construction. Jill Pitman agreed, and asked planners to consider when the children go to school.

Town Meeting will continue on May 14 at 6:45 p.m. in the Sippican School Auditorium to vote on with Article 27 and subsequent articles.