These projects are long overdue and I hope that we can with our colleagues from across the state to pass this needed measure.
Lawmakers seek $2.2M for unfunded water, sewer projects
By Elizabeth Dinan
PORTSMOUTH – Nine state representatives and two state senators have sponsored a bill to allocate $2.2 million for drinking water and sewer projects, some previously earmarked for Portsmouth but never funded.
Three Portsmouth projects cited in the proposed allocation are $95,449 for Lincoln Street sewer separation work, $52,995 for Cass Street area sewer improvements and $21,997 for a pump station at the Rye town line.
Public Works Director Peter Rice said if the proposed legislation is enacted, the funds would go into the city’s water and sewer enterprise account as revenue that would offset expenses and be passed on to ratepayers. Sewer rates have increased annually since fiscal year 2014, when the rates were first increased by 12 percent to bank money for multi-million dollar upgrades mandated for the Peirce Island treatment plant.
According to the city finance office, after the 12 percent increase, in Fiscal Year 2015 the sewer rate was increased another 5 percent, then the following year by another 5 percent. The projected increase for the next fiscal year is 4 percent, said Finance Director Judie Belanger, while cautioning more budget information is needed before the number is solidified.
The proposed bill (HB 119-FN-A-LOCAL) seeks to appropriate the $2.2 million to the Department of Environmental Services, then allocate the money for 12 unfunded and completed projects, through state grants. Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, a Portsmouth Democrat, is one of the sponsors, but could not be reached for comment.
Rice said Portsmouth officials are monitoring the legislation and will send a letter in support of it.
This year’s legislation follows a failed bipartisan attempt last year to pass a bill that would have ended $4.3 million in annual tax breaks for facilities with “pollution control devices,” in 13 New Hampshire communities, then use the new tax money to pay for the unfunded municipal water and sewer projects. A year ago, Portsmouth’s Deputy Director of Public Works Brian Goetz said that proposed legislation, “could help us get 20 to 30 percent back on projects we’ve done over the years.”
“State-aid grants have not been funded for a number of years,” Goetz said, “So at the moment, the ratepayers are footing the whole bill.”