WILTON — A public hearing will be held March 1 to gather input from residents about whether Wilton should contribute $170,000 to help with wastewater debt payments in order to prevent sewer rates from increasing steeply.

The hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. March 1 at the Academy Hill School.

After discussing the issue at their January meetings, selectmen decided Tuesday that they needed public input in order to make their final decision on whether to include town funding in the 2016-2017 budget to go toward debt payments that will be due for loans the water department is using to fund its $10.8 million upgrade of the town’s wastewater system and treatment facility.

Selectmen have remained hesitant to add funding in the town budget for the debt payments because not all residents of Wilton use the town’s sewer system.

“I think we need to get a lot more people involved (in this discussion),” Selectman John Black said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Water District Superintendent Justin Futia recommended that $170,000 in town funding be included in the 2016-2017 budget to go toward debt payments.

For the last several years, $30,000 has been included in the town budget to go toward debt payments on earlier loans used on the project. Town Manager Rhonda Irish said this amount was intended to be addressed later and possibly increased as the upgrade project progressed.

“This is not the first time this has been proposed,” Irish said.

Regardless of what the town’s contribution is, rates still will increase. With the minimum of a $30,000 town contribution, annual sewer rates are projected to go from the present annual rate of $439 to $737 as the debt payments start to be due, Irish said.

“(Sewer users) tend to be your … users that are in the in-town area, which are not necessarily your most affluent houses,” Irish said.

The upgrade of the town’s sewer system and the Davis Court wastewater treatment plant began in 2009 and was divided into two phases. Phase one of the project is complete, and now focus is being shifted to phase two, an overhaul of the treatment plant, which hasn’t been upgraded since it was built 40 years ago.

“The deferred maintenance is really starting to catch up with us,” Tiffany Maiuri said.

Residents approved accepting a U.S. Department of Agriculture $2.75 million loan and a $1.35 million grant in October to complete phase two of the upgrade.

At a Dec. 16 Selectboard meeting, former Water District Superintendent Clay Putnam, who retired in December, said that in order to be able to make the debt payments on the loans, sewer rate increases will be needed.

In September 2015, the grace period of a year on the phase one loan ended, and the town made the first $198,049 debt payment, which it will need to make annually for the next 29 years.

Town officials have said once spring comes, the project is expected to move faster, and the town could close on the phase 2A loan as soon as September. A year from when the town closes on that loan, the first debt payment of $140,000 is due. It is not certain when the town will close on the phase 2B loan, but Irish said that could occur in September, meaning that the first $141,075 debt payment on that loan will be due in 2018.

For each of the loans, the debt payments will be made annually for 29 years.

Residents will have the final say on whether town funding should be used to support debt payments when they vote on the 2016-2017 budget at Wilton’s Town Meeting on June 20.

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate

 


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