ST. ALBANS — St. Albans City is waiting for the St. Albans Town selectboard to decide whether or not it wants to proceed with an agreement granting town residents and businesses access to water and wastewater services on the same terms as city residents.
The agreement would also create a joint economic development committee.
The town board is considering its options, looking to see if the town could provide needed water and wastewater services more cheaply on its own, according to city manager Dominic Cloud. “If I was in their shoes, I might be doing the same thing,” he said.
The Messenger reached out to Bruce Cheeseman, vice chair of the town selectboard, and one of the negotiators of the potential agreement. After consulting with the rest of the board, Cheeseman declined to comment, citing the town’s current lawsuit against the city. The Messenger then sat down with Cloud, who agreed to provide an outline of the potential agreement.
The town has sued the city over water and sewer for the third time. This time the town seeks to end an affiliation fee program in which the city charges an annual fee to access the city’s water and wastewater systems to businesses and residents located outside the city limits. The fee applies only to those signing on to those services after the city lifted a moratorium on new users from outside the city last fall.
The lawsuit is in the discovery phase.
On Monday, the selectboard is scheduled to examine the results of a feasibility study commissioned by the town to determine if the town could affordably build water and wastewater processing capacity itself. In October, engineers Dubois & King said test pits in the St. Albans Town Industrial Park showed it would be possible to build a mound system there, which could process 248,000 gallons of wastewater per day. The cost of such an undertaking was not discussed.
The possible agreement
Cloud provided an outline of the agreement negotiated by the two communities, but declined to discuss the dollars involved.
Initially, the town had sought to purchase half of the city’s water and wastewater infrastructure, including plants, pipes and future capacity.
“That’s expensive,” said Cloud. “It took us 100 years to get here.”
He estimated the debt service on a bond to make that purchase would be in excess of $1 million per year and the entire grand list of the town would be required as security.
“The conversation naturally morphed towards how can we build a deal around ability to pay,” said Cloud.
The final proposal is for the town to pay the city a portion of its local options sales tax revenues each year. In addition, the town would share a percentage of the property tax revenues from new developments using the city’s water and sewer services.
The city would be able to use those revenues as it saw fit and not solely for the water and sewer systems.
In return, the city would eliminate the affiliation fee and would phase in an equalization of water and sewer rates between city and town users. Town users currently pay more.
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