Wednesday, November 26, 2014
My Account  | Login
Nashua;33.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/sn.png;2014-11-26 16:22:27
pic1
pic2
pic3
pic4
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Work continues on the Merrimack water supply along Turkey Hill Road Tuesday, November 16, 2010.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Work continues on the Merrimack water supply along Turkey Hill Road Tuesday, November 16, 2010.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Work continues on the Merrimack water supply along Turkey Hill Road Tuesday, November 16, 2010.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Work continues on the Merrimack water supply along Turkey Hill Road Tuesday, November 16, 2010.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Merrimack residents run their Village District

MERRIMACK – The sale of Pennichuck water company, announced earlier this month in Nashua, won’t make many waves across the line in Merrimack.

While a small section of Merrimack receives its water services through Pennichuck, most residents and businesses get their water from the Merrimack Village District, the town’s independent water supplier.

Unlike privately held Pennichuck, the Village District, which services about 95 percent of town residents, is operated like a separate municipality, governed by an elected board and owned by district voters, according to Superintendent James McSweeney.

And unlike Pennichuck, the district is not for sale, he said this week.

Nashua officials recently announced their $198 million purchase of Pennichuck. The deal will be completed sometime next year.

“There’s no way that would happen here,” said McSweeney, in his seventh year with the district.

“It’s not something that’s been talked about, at least as long as I’ve been here,” he said. “It would be like selling the town.”

Like a town council or board, the district’s five-member board of commissioners provides administrative oversight for the district. But the service users, roughly 27,000 residents, ultimately rule over the entity.

Like voters at Town Meeting, district voters determine the operating budget, as well as other capital spending, at a yearly district meeting, held the last Tuesday of March.

“It’s (the people’s) company. That’s the difference,” district commissioner Tony Pellegrino, a 12-year veteran of the board, said this week. “What the people want, the people get. ... The people have the right to do whatever they want.”

State law allows residents to form village districts to provide greater citizen authority over the water supply, lighting, sewers, and fire and ambulance services, among other services.

Merrimack residents voted nearly 50 years ago to create the Village District, extending the smaller Reeds Ferry service throughout town, administrators said.

Voters did not include a small portion of properties in the southern part of town, however, likely because of the large water demands of the Anheuser-Busch plant on the Daniel Webster Highway, said McSweeney, the district superintendent.

“The amount of water that would have been demanded by (the plant) would have been outside the capacity of the village district,” he said.

The district’s budget, currently about $2.8 million, makes it among the largest of the state’s roughly 55 water districts, administrators said.

Throughout New Hampshire, there are more than 90 village districts, including sewer, fire and ambulance entities, spread across Conway, Derry and Plymouth, among other towns.

The Village District budget covers operations and maintenance of the district’s seven ground water wells, three holding tanks and more than 150 miles of piping, as well as salaries for 14 staff members.

District commissioners have the authority to raise the money through taxes, McSweeney said. But they raise the money instead through water rates, currently $1.85 per 100 cubic feet, or 7.5 gallons, of water used, and other associated charges, including connection fees and hydrant fees for anyone within 600 feet of a fire hydrant.

“That makes it as equitable as possible,” McSweeney said.

The arrangement serves to keep rates down. “They’re very reasonable,” said Town Councilor Finlay Rothhaus.

And it helps to relieve some of the workload for town officials, who might otherwise run water operations.

In many parts of the state, including neighboring Manchester, public works departments run their water services within the municipal government.

In Nashua, city officials plan to maintain current Pennichuck employees to run the company rather than create a separate city department, they said. The company also currently provides water services for 10 other towns, including Amherst, Bedford, Hollis, Merrimack and Milford, among others.

“(In Merrimack) we’d have to enhance ... our public works department if we were to run our water internally,” Rothhaus, the town councilor, said this week.

“It works out pretty well the way it is,” he said. “This way, the town people can do what the town people do, and the water people are able to keep a pretty good focus on running the water system.”

Jake Berry can be reached at 603-594-6402 or jberry@nashuatelegraph.com.