$18.3M to fix up sewer plants heads to voters

Stonington - While residents here have the reputation for being reluctant to pass the annual budget each spring, they enthusiastically support large building projects such as the new police station and the renovated and expanded high school.

At Tuesday's referendum the question is whether residents will approve funding for another big project, this one costing $18.3 million.

Unlike the other projects, though, the proposed work to renovate the town's three aging and outmoded sewer plants will never be seen by most residents as it will take place inside the facilities. And like most sewer treatment plants, residents never give much thought to them until there is problem.

That threat of a catastrophic breakdown is getting increasingly likely, according to Water Pollution Control authority officials, especially at the 40-year-old Mystic plant, where replacement parts are hard to come by and where $15 million of the money would be spent.

"It's critical we get this referendum passed," authority Chairman Jim Sisk said at last week's town meeting on the project.

Because the work will eventually have to be done, he said the town can pay now for the work or pay more at a later date.

With the town paying down its current debt, the availability of low interest rates and contractors looking for work, he said now is good time to do the project.

There was little comment about the plan at a recent public forum and town meeting.

The authority has spent a decade developing a plan to upgrade the plants, rejecting ideas such as replacing the three plants with one new one behind the high school or pumping some of the town's sewage to Groton.

The project being voted on calls for replacing mechanical, electrical and other equipment, making code improvements and installing an enhanced biological process that will allow the Mystic plant to treat more waste and remove nitrogen. Improvements will also be made to the borough and Pawcatuck plants.

The town would bond the project over 20 years and borrow most of the money in two approximately equal amounts in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 budget years.

According to estimates by Director of Finance Maryanna Stevens, the project would have the greatest impact on the budget in fiscal 2014-15, when the town would have to pay $1.5 million in principal and interest.

But the town's total debt payments that year would be just $360,000 more than the current $4.6 million because school projects and other work will have been paid off by then. The debt payments would then decrease in subsequent years.

The cost of paying the debt in 2014-15 for a homeowner whose property is assessed at $225,000 would be $347 - adding $111 to the projected tax bill at that time. However, when compared with the current fiscal year, the $347 in taxes is an increase of only $13.

Stonington Wastewater Treatment Plant referendum:

WHEN: Tuesday, noon to 8 p.m.

POLLS: Districts 1 and 3, Stonington borough firehouse.

District 2, Pawcatuck firehouse

District 4 and 5, B.F. Hoxie Engine Co. firehouse.

RESULTS: Will be announced when the town meeting resumes Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. at Town Hall.

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