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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Waste water treatment plant upgrades on agenda for Merrimack deliberative session

MERRIMACK – As usual, Merrimack voters will have waste on their minds at this week’s Deliberative Session. But this year, it will be of the human sort.

For the second year in a row, town voters will face a pair of warrant articles at Wednesday’s meeting proposing to upgrade the town’s waste water treatment plant.

The first article, a $4.2 million request, proposes to upgrade the plant’s 40-year-old pumping and electric systems, among others, while the second would provide about $2.9 million worth of improvements to the plant’s compost facility.

Much of the plant’s equipment has been in use since the facility opened in 1970, and it’s nearing the end of its useful life, plant operator Leo Gaudette said.

Both articles, if passed, would be funded through sewer user fees rather than tax dollars, he said.

“We could keep (the plant) going, but it’s probably just a matter of time before one of these pumps experiences some type of major failure,” Gaudette said. “We can’t afford not to do this.”

Among other matters going to voters Wednesday is the town’s $30.1 million operating budget. The budget proposal is about $3 million, or 11 percent, higher than the default budget enacted last year by voters. But the proposed spending plan is less than 1 percent higher than actual town spending, which includes a series of capital projects, not included in the default budget, that were funded over the past year.

If the spending plan is approved, it would not cause an increase to the municipal portion of the local property tax rate, Town Manager Eileen Cabanel said. That’s because the Merrimack Premium Outlets mall is set to increase property values when it opens in June.

Under the budget proposal, the tax rate would remain at $5.24 per $1,000 of assessed value, Cabanel said.

“The council has been responsive to the plight of the taxpayers,” she said Monday. “We’ve worked very hard at that.”

Not everyone is as pleased with the town budget proposal.

The spending plan proposes to eliminate two vacant firefighter positions, a move that Fire Chief Michael Currier says could weaken town safety.

Fire Department officials rotate a roster of 32 firefighters over four shifts, which is enough staff to handle two emergency calls at once. However, any more than two calls at once poses a problem, Currier said.

“The frequency of calls are increasing as time moves on,” he said. “We’re getting more calls that are back to back, or double calls at once. That’s a struggle for us.”

The other articles going before voters at Wednesday’s meeting both involve police union contracts.

Town officials have negotiated contract settlements with the police patrolmen and the department’s dispatchers and secretaries.

The patrolmen agreement will run through 2013, providing a 1 percent salary increase next year to the officers at a cost of about $32,000; the second contract would provide a similar 1 percent raise next year at a cost of about $2,900.

Voters will have the opportunity to adjust these articles Wednesday night before they send them forward to the April 10 elections.

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or