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Enfield voters send water, sewer projects down the drain at outdoor Town Meeting

  • An Enfield resident who declined to identify himself raises his hand during a vote on whether to table a decision to lease four police cruisers during Town Meeting at Huse Park in Enfield, N.H., Saturday, July 11, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Jon Warzocha, CEO of Horizons Engineering, right, responds to a question on proposed sewer improvements from Dwight Marchetti, left, during Town Meeting at Huse Park in Enfield, N.H., Saturday, July 11, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Enfield voter Erik Russell holds up a paper ballot to be collected during Town Meeting in Enfield, N.H., Saturday, July 11, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • David Fracht urges his fellow Enfield, N.H., residents to vote no on an article that would establish a construction and property tax exemption for businesses in the town during a Town Meeting held in Huse Park, Saturday, July 11, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Angus Derocher, middle, collects the votes of Michael, left, and Linda Jones, right, after discussion of an article that would improve the municipal water system in Enfield, N.H., during Town Meeting Saturday, July 11, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/11/2020 4:33:55 PM
Modified: 7/11/2020 4:33:54 PM

ENFIELD — Voters rejected two projects totaling $3.8 million that would have improved Enfield’s water and sewer systems at an outdoor Town Meeting held Saturday morning with people voting from under tents and parked cars at Huse Park.

Voters did, however, readily approve a $6.72 million operating budget that the Selectboard and budget committee had revised downward from the $6.93 million budget they had previously proposed ahead of March 14, the day when Town Meeting was originally scheduled to take place.

“As we all know, our economy is going through extreme hardship,” said Sam Eaton, the budget committee’s chairman, who sat at a table at the front of one of the tents during Saturday’s nearly four-hour meeting.

The roughly 90 voters went about their business in the unconventional manner of voting from folding chairs spaced 6 feet apart while wearing masks, or while seated in their parked cars listening to the meeting over their radios, occasionally honking in support or opposition to the issue at hand. While some had their windshield wipers going in the rain at the beginning of the meeting, they turned them off when the sun came out toward the end.

To get to the revised budget, the town trimmed expenses and held off on hiring two new employees, he said. Doing so should keep taxes at or below the level they were for the previous year, even while maintaining the town’s “high quality of life,” he said.

In addition to the general fund budget, voters also approved raising $448,368 for the Capital Improvement Program Capital Reserve Fund, as well as spending $150,000 to replace a bridge on Oak Hill Road, $75,000 for wastewater planning; $40,000 to replace sidewalks in the village; and $30,000 for the Employee and Retiree Benefits Expendable Trust Fund.

But voters balked at the price tags of the water and sewer projects, some saying the need for them was not urgent enough to justify the spending during the pandemic. Though both projects earned a majority of votes in favor, they failed to get the two-thirds majority needed to gain approval via ballot votes. The water project failed, 57-36, while the sewer project failed, 50-43.

The $1.9 million water project would have included a new well and replacing roughly a mile of a water distribution main line, while the sewer project would have included fixing manholes and pipes to avoid sending stormwater to Lebanon for treatment at a cost to Enfield.

Some of the town’s water and sewer users said even without the improvements rates are too high.

“I’m already unhappy with the water costs, and I run the laundromat,” said Brian Degnan, who owns Laundry Depot on Main Street.

Tim Jennings, who led the town’s public works department in the 1990s, said he would normally support the improvements, but not during the pandemic.

“I feel like this is not something we need to do right now,” Jennings said. “The system isn’t going to fall apart tomorrow.”

Town Manager Ryan Aylesworth said the water project was necessary because the town’s water system is aging and therefore at risk for more problems, and the sewer project was aimed at reducing the amount Enfield pays to Lebanon for water treatment.

The town applied for grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help with the cost of the projects. Aylesworth said it’s possible that as much as 40% of the water project could be funded by grants, the remainder of which would come from the system’s users.

Jon Warzocha, CEO of Horizons Engineering, which has been working with the town on both projects, said investing in the town’s water infrastructure could help avoid “a catastrophic event.” He also said that infrastructure loans are at the lowest interest rate he’s seen in his 20-year career.

“It’s really important to start putting some investment into the system,” Warzocha said.

Voters also trimmed 2020 municipal expenses by tabling several other spending articles until next year, including a $190,000 long-term lease for four police cruisers; a $48,000 lease for a 1-ton pickup truck; and $35,000 for developing a community master plan.

They approved a new construction property tax exemption for commercial and industrial uses, as well as an electricity power purchase agreement to allow a third party to install solar panels on the town’s salt and sand shed to produce electricity that the town will purchase.

Voters tabled a petitioned article that would have expressed the town’s support of a state and/or federal carbon cash-back program.

At the end of the meeting, Town Moderator Lindsay Smith urged voters to register to vote absentee in the September and November elections.

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




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