Lebanon City Council Will Meet Wednesday on Storm Damage Plan

Lebanon — City officials are expected this week to discuss a plan to pay for $10.3 million in damage from summer storms that wreaked havoc on the city’s roads and water lines and spurred the evacuation of dozens of residents.

Money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service is slated to cover 46 percent of the total, with city taxpayers and sewer customers picking up the balance.

“We have to feel fortunate that we’re not shouldering the crisis all alone,” said City Councilor Karen Liot Hill in a telephone interview on Thursday. “That being said, more would be better.”

The City Council will hold a public hearing on the eight projects resulting from last summer’s storms — Slayton Hill Road, Dulac Street, Storrs Hill, a West Lebanon sewer main and four projects at the airport — on Wednesday. Following the public hearing, the council is scheduled to take action on the projects’ financing.

The bulk of the total repair cost — $7.9 million — will go toward to reconstructing Slayton Hill Road and Dulac Street, which were severely damaged in last summer’s flooding.

The city plans to pay for its $5.6 million share of the total by borrowing $3.9 million and allocating $1.7 million from the general fund unassigned fund balance.

While expenses stemming from the flooding were unexpected, they came ahead of budget planning for 2014, allowing the city to beef up its rainy day fund in anticipation, said Finance Director Len Jarvi.

Expenditures from the unassigned fund constitute about 28 percent of total expenditures from the general fund in 2013 and they are expected to make up 22 percent of this year’s total, according to information Jarvi provided to the City Council ahead of Wednesday’s meeting. The city’s target is 15 to 17 percent annually.

The expenditure from the fund balance will help offset the cost of debt service and the resulting tax increases.

Residents, however, will feel a pinch over the 20-year life of the loan, beginning in 2016. Property taxes are expected to go up 16 cents per $1,000 of value, resulting in a $40 increase on a home valued at $250,000.

Over time, the city expects the tax impact of the repair costs to diminish as its grand list continues to grow, Jarvi said.

Residents also can expect to see an increase in sewer rates to pay for $407,735 in repairs to a West Lebanon sewer main, but the extent of that increase is yet to be determined. Repair costs will be factored in when the city sets sewer rates for 2015-2020, Jarvi said. He said the overall effect on sewer rates would not be significant.

FEMA funds totalling $4.5 million will support the cost of replacing damaged infrastructure “in kind,” but the city has chosen to go further to improve damaged areas in the hope of being better prepared for future storms.

The decision to make improvements, rather than simply replacing damaged infrastructure, is contributing to the city’s costs.

“It’s tough to spend the money, but (they are) good investments,” said Assistant Mayor Suzanne Prentiss. “We are making it more predictable and stable for the future.”

The city’s infrastructure has previously been designed to sustain 25- or 30-year storms, said Public Works Director Mike Lavalla.

Now the city is trying to design drainage ditches and culverts to preserve roads in the case of 100-year storms, he said.

“The problem is, to be able to put as robust an infrastructure as we want to handle that storm, impacts are going to have to happen,” said Lavalla. For some residents — particularly those on Dulac Street — those impacts may include losing portions of their property.

Because Dulac is caught between the river and a steep slope, widening the road, as the engineers recommend, will reduce the size of some residents’ lots, said City Manager Greg Lewis. “Something’s got to give in terms of impact on property,” he said.

The city will continue to communicate with property owners before completing the design, Lewis said.

As part of the ongoing dialogue, Prentiss said, the city is likely to work with Dulac Street residents to institute some “traffic calming” measures as a compromise to those who might be losing some of their property to the reconstruction.

The Planning Board will review plans for the removal of trees and stone walls along Slayton Hill Road at its meeting on Monday.

All of the projects, except Dulac Street, will be on an accelerated schedule in order to take advantage of federal funds.

Should the council give its approval on Wednesday, Lavalla expects the city to send the projects out to bid in May and would aim to complete construction in November.

The city likely will have until Aug. 23 to repair the sewer line using $242,265 from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Ed Hansalik, civil engineer for the project, told the council during a work session last month.

The city will have until November to spend the FEMA money, which is a factor in all the proposed projects except Dulac Street and the sewer main, Jarvi said.

The City Council will hear public comments on storm recovery efforts during its Wednesday meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.