Water rate hike eyed to fund new tanks in Hadley

Hadley Town Hall

Hadley Town Hall STAFF FILE PHOTO

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 04-11-2024 6:31 PM

HADLEY — Hadley water rates could go up 10%, with an average household paying about $8 more per quarterly billing cycle, under an initial plan to cover the $9 million cost of replacing the Mount Warner and Mount Holyoke water tanks.

The Select Board on March 20 endorsed a tentative proposal, brought by the financial team at Town Hall, that would see the project paid for half by property taxes and half by water reserves.

Voters at annual Town Meeting on May 2 will consider the project to construct ground-level, glass-fused steel tanks at the two locations, one off Mount Warner Road near North Hadley and the other off Route 47 in the Hockanum section of town. The project also depends on a Proposition 2 ½ debt-exclusion ballot vote.

Treasurer Linda Sanderson presented the plan showing that property tax bills would not see an increase.

Department of Public Works Director Scott McCarthy said once the town is committed to the project, the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides a low-interest loan with principal forgiveness. This is expected to cover 30% to 40% of the costs.

If the project moves forward, work would likely start either in early spring 2025 or September 2025.

Because Hadley will be without one water tank at a time, the idea is to do the work at a time of lower water demand.

McCarthy has said the state’s Department of Environmental Protection is requiring the town, at minimum, to rehabilitate the existing tanks, with the replacement, a less expensive long-term solution.

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Select Board member Molly Keegan said the bottom line is the town can’t say no to the project and appreciates the efforts of the financial team, Sanderson, Tax Collector Susan Glowatsky, Assessor Dan Zdonek and Town Administrator Carolyn Brennan, to smooth out payments for taxpayers.

But Keegan said there is concern the work has to happen even as town officials want to move forward with a new Department of Public Works complex on South Middle Street and have other major capital projects in need of funding.

Maintaining the town’s water quality is a necessity, said Select Board member Joyce Chunglo. “The water is something everybody uses,” Chunglo said

Sanderson said a lot of unknowns and variables remain with respect to the borrowing costs, including the precise amount the USDA grant would cover. Still, the use of water reserves to cover the estimated extra $35,000 a year in borrowing costs appears to be appropriate.

Glowatsky said a 10% increase in water rates just for this debt payment would generate $110,000 a year, or an increase of $8 per billing cycle for the average user.

“It’s something that needs to be done, and it’s the simplest way to get it done without piling more on taxation,” Glowatsky said

Bridge work

In other business, the Select Board approved McCarthy’s plans to remove the deck from a closed bridge in North Hadley, known as Dwyer’s Bridge, on Old River Drive adjacent to Route 47.

“Take the deck off, put up a good fence there, and secure it properly,” McCarthy said, explaining that this will reduce town liability.

Fire Chief Michael Spanknebel endorsed the project. He observed that even with looming culvert repairs nearby on Route 47, the aging bridge is a hazard and couldn’t be used by fire engines.

“We would not be able to roll our vehicles across that right now,” Spanknebel said.

The decision came despite an appeal from nearby resident Bill Dwyer, who said the town’s abandonment of maintenance for the past 20 years has led to issues on the lightly traveled road, including some vehicles having to make hairpin turns. “It’s an awkward turning movement across traffic,” Dwyer said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.