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Winni River Basin board wants voting rights to ease costs


September 08, 2010
LAKES REGION — With proposed upgrades to the Winnipesauke River Basin Program estimated at a cost of $80 to 100 million, the advisory board, comprised of representatives from the 10 member communities, has decided to fight for voting rights to have some influence over the budget.

The WRBP was established in 1972 with the mission to provide regional sewer and water treatment at a time when rivers, lakes and streams were beginning to suffer from waste seeping into the waters, diminishing water quality and increasing aquatic plant growth. The treatment plant, taking all of the region's waste around the major bodies of water and handling it on one facility, came online in 1979 and has served the area for 31 years.

"Since the program began, the waters are cleaner then they've been in a long time and it's benefited not just the environment but also the economy of the area," said WRBP Superintendent Steven Dolloff.

Dolloff said many upgrades have been done over the years, one in the amount of $6 million in 1998. Another recent upgrade was made to aeration blowers and building improvements to the plant, including a "green roof," which cost the program $1 million after 50 percent in matching ARRA funds was received.

"There's been a lot of work done but with age, mechanical and electrical upgrades are always needed after 20 years. They don't last forever. There's a lot of new technology out there today and some of that can even come with paybacks in savings in other areas," Dolloff said.

WRPB sat down with engineers over a year ago to consider what upgrades were necessary and discuss what other updates in technology should be considered to benefit the program. While no definitive cost estimates are available yet, Dolloff said they could exceed $80 million. That amount would have to be approved by the Department of Environmental Services, which currently oversees the program's budget.

The WRPB was initially funded by the State of New Hampshire but now is funded solely through users in the 10 communities of Laconia, Franklin, Gilford, Meredith, Belmont, Sanbornton, Tilton, Northfield, Center Harbor and Moultonboro. The towns' water and sewage fees supply the money while the Department of Environmental Services handles the budget. Now the advisory board is concerned about possible rate increases.

"The Advisory Board is looking for voting rights now and voting strength for capital improvements they're looking to put forth. It's time for us to have a say in how the money is spent," said Dan Leonard of the Meredith Water and Sewer Department.

Exactly what that say will be has yet to be decided by the advisory board. Laconia is the biggest user of the system, followed by Franklin, Gilford and Meredith. Discussions have taken place as to just how each town's vote would be represented should they gain legislation to become a voting entity. With Laconia bearing approximately 49 percent of the capital and operating budgets, some member communities feel voting power should be assigned by usage.

Belmont Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin said she has not yet formed a strong opinion on how the vote should be divided up.

"Right now I'm looking for us as a board to come up with a method of governance that's fair and equitable to all," Beaudin said.

Scott Dunn, Gilford's town administrator, echoed that sentiment. Dunn, who presented a rough draft of legislation at a recent meeting in Meredith, said no matter how voting powers are divided, they need to be mutually agreed upon and fair to all towns using the system.

"The bottom line is whether your town pays, let's just say $23,000 or a half a million dollars, it's my opinion that it needs to be fair, with everyone represented," said Dunn.

DES attended that meeting in Meredith, where town administrators and managers, as well as some localized water and sewer system operators, sat down to discuss how voting power on the WRBP should be handled. Dunn said DES officials were very willing to work with the board.

"They were there to make sure whatever happens, it works for everybody involved," Dunn said.

During that meeting the Advisory Board agreed to move forward with a subcommittee to draft a more formal legislation and bring it back at a later time for all board members to consider.

Board members have also discussed the possibility of asking the state to spread the expense for the system among all taxpayers and not just those hooked into the WRBP and its local affiliate treatment systems. Some members have expressed the opinion that clean water in the Lakes Region essentially helps out more than just the local communities.

"This system really benefits the whole state, keeping water flowing downstream clean and bringing in tourists and businesses that help the economy," said Leonard. "Right now it's just time for the towns to have a say since we're totally funding the program, and we're making progress with that."

Another meeting of the Advisory Board will be scheduled later this month.

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