BETHEL — Bethel selectmen voted Aug. 6 to apply for an additional $500,000 in grant money for improvements to the Waste Water Treatment Plant.
The work includes the construction of a building to house a dewatering machine, which consolidates sludge for easier disposal. Other improvements include new pumps, decking and a shed.
The WWTP’s capital improvement plan had budgeted for borrowing approximately $400,000 and using another $400,000 in grant money from USDA Rural Development to fund the project.
But the board received bids last month significantly above their estimate. The bids came in at $1,714,300 from Apex Construction of New Hampshire and $1,494,769 from T. Buck Construction of Turner.
Now-former Town Manager Christine Landes had said that she spoke with a representative from RD and learned that if the town can prove the additional cost would be a significant burden on the ratepayers, more grant money might be available to assist. She was told by RD that the town would need to borrow between $650,000 and $700,000 in order to get an additional $500,000 grant beyond the current $400,000 available.
Landes estimated last week that under that scenario of combined funding, monthly rates for sewer users would rise by about $18 a quarter. The current minimum quarterly fee is $159. But if more units can be added to the user list through a current survey of buildings that is expected to be completed next month, that increase could be less or might not happen at all, Landes said.
Selectman Don Bennett noted that contractors currently have plenty of work and can ask for more money for projects.
Randy Autrey, an operator at the WWTP, said he believes the priorities at the plant should be safety and compliance with requirements of the Department of Environmental Protection, in the context of the ability of users to pay.
Regarding safety issues, employees are instructed not to go by themselves on a walkway over the tanks at the plant, out of concern someone could fall through.
As for operation of the plant, the dewatering machine cannot be used in the winter and can only be run on sunny days, Autrey said.
Selectman Andy Whitney said he could not vote for the funding proposal, saying that he would rather see the funds focused on essential upgrades.
There was some discussion of replanning the project and asking for new bids, but Landes said the current grant funding is already being held by RD over the due date for its use, and it would likely be lost entirely if the town went that route.
The question was asked whether the costs could be spread across the entire Bethel taxpayer base instead of just ratepayers, but Bennett said putting that idea out would “fill this room to capacity.”
The vote was 3-1, with Whitney opposed. Selectman Peter Southam was absent.