Questions arise over water supply: Recommended 2 cent tax rate increase and conflicting water pump opinions among Hinesburg Selectboard discussion items

SCOOTER MACMILLAN
Staff Writer

The Hinesburg Selectboard got some good news and got some bad news at its July 11 meeting. The budget is in the black, but the water supply is still questionable.

First the good news: Town Administrator Renae Marshall told the selectboard that town budget revenues were up and expenses were down.

“At the time of budget season, we were predicting very little grand list growth,” Marshall said. “Based on our proposed budget, it was going to increase the tax rate more significantly, so we were opting to use some of our unallocated fund balance.”

But now she said that she didn’t think that there was a need. She recommended that the tax rate should only go up about 2 cents for fiscal year 2020 and suggested that they not dip into the unallocated fund balance.

The selectboard approved setting the tax rate at $0.5296 per $100 of assessed value of property, which is just over 2 cents more than last year’s rate of $0.5090. The vote was 4-0 in favor. Selectboard member Jeff French was absent.

Marshall said this will mean an increase in municipal taxes of $20.60 on a house assessed at $100,000 or an increase of $82.40 on a house assessed at $400,000. When combined with education tax rates, which are set by the state of Vermont, this means a total increase of $23.20 on a $100,000 house and a $92.80 increase on a $400,000 house.

How long to pump?

The potentially bad news came from Water Works Superintendent Erik Bailey, who said if the town follows the recommendation of its consulting hydrogeologist Cindy Sprague, it will be out of water – on paper at least. Sprague recommended that the town only pump water for 12 hours a day.

The news is not as bad as it might at first appear for several reasons.

One is that the town has been pumping water for 15 hours a day, so if it doesn’t follow Sprague’s recommendation, Hinesburg will have a surplus.

Bailey said that a few years ago, the state eliminated a rule that limited towns to pumping water for 12 hours a day and left the limit up to each town.

In 2017, he said that he was pumping water for 20-22 hours a day to make up for water lost to leaks. The biggest leak was discovered in September 2017 at the Green Street Housing development just south of Charlotte Road about 900 feet from Highway 116. This leak was because of a faulty joint on the private property side of the curb so the fix was on the contractor and not the town.

By phone after the selectboard meeting, Bailey said that this leak could have been as much as 100,000 gallons a day.

Once the leaks were fixed, he decided that 15 hours a day was a “comfortable” amount of time to pump and that’s how long they’ve been pumping each day.

The selectboard’s concern is that, on paper, it looks like Hinesburg doesn’t have any water to allocate for any new construction if the town decides to follow Sprague’s recommendation.

In fact, on paper , Bailey emphasized, it looks like the town has less water than has been allocated if the town switches to 12 hours a day of pumping.

He said that Hinesburg’s water system’s capacity is 235 gallons per minute, so if water is pumped 12 hours a day that’s a total of more than 169,000 gallons a day.

Actual water used last year (from June 1, 2018, to May 31, 2019) was more than 140,000 gallons a day, which would mean that there would be almost 29,000 gallons of water left over. But more than 41,000 gallons of water have been allocated to projects that are under construction or in the planning stages, meaning that the water system would be more than 12,000 gallons short – if all of the water allocated was used.

But, Bailey said, the state requires for more water to be allocated for construction projects than is actually used.

When the water is pumped for 15 hours a day, the system produces more than 211,000 gallons a day – enough for the actual water being used and the allocated water.

Allocation regrets

Selectboard chair Pouech said he wouldn’t have supported the allocation of water for the first phase of construction of the BlackRock development “thinking that they got the last drop.”

“I’m surprised because just three months ago we allocated a pile of water saying we’ve still got a little bit left for an in-law apartment and now we find out we don’t,” said Pouech. “I think that’s unfair to the people in the town or some business who need a small piece to keep moving forward.”

BlackRock Construction is on a 75-acre development called Haystack Crossing just north of the town village. Part of that development is a well that BlackRock is developing. When completed, the town will get 70 percent of that water and 30 percent will go to Haystack Crossing.

However, it will be quite a while before that water is available. Bailey said the BlackRock well could be approved by the state this year. It will take time to schedule a bond vote, which he thinks will be for around $700,000, to finance the development of this addition to the water system. If approved by voters, it will take another year to construct and get the well on line, he said.

On an encouraging note, Bailey said that, because of improvements to the water system, the previous week the town pumped an average of 120,000 gallons a day, which is less than the average than a decade ago with fewer homes and businesses connected.

Director of Planning and Zoning Alex Weinhagen also said that he’d talked to a state water official who said that Hinesburg “is doing a great job keeping track [of water usage] because there are towns who don’t even know how much they’re using, have no idea how much capacity they have left.”

The selectboard decided not to make a decision about how much time they wanted to have water pumped each day until they could meet with Sprague, hopefully at their next meeting on Thursday, July 18. Pouech said he would like to hear if she thinks that pumping more than 12 hours a day will hurt the well or damage the aquifer.

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