By MAUREEN DOHERTY
NORTH READING — “We hear your concerns.” That is the message from town officials to the community at large following the roll-out of multiple workshops, meetings and listening sessions with potential residential and business customers of the proposed municipal wastewater system connection throughout the fall.
The meetings have been held both in person and virtually between late September and early November in anticipation of a tentatively scheduled Special Town Meeting on Monday, Dec. 5. But midway through the public outreach, it became clear to the Select Board members and town officials that it would be premature to hold that Special Town Meeting.
The project, estimated to cost upwards of $130 million, will “likely require a combination of potential funding sources, including betterments assessed to abutting property owners, connection fees, state and/or federal grants, and/or additional taxes assessed through a debt exclusion override” according to information provided on the town’s website about the project (https://www.northreadingma.gov/wastewater-sewer-information).
It’s the cost of those betterments which have raised the most concern to both residential and commercial property owners who live along the proposed sewer route (Main Street, Concord Street, North Street from Main Street to Lowell Road, Lowell Road from North Street to the Wilmington town line, and Park Street from Main Street to Concord Street). The wastewater flow would be sent to the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District plant in North Andover.
If passed at a future Special Town Meeting, it would then need to go to a town-wide override vote of Proposition 2 1/2.
Select Board members Stephen O’Leary and Vincenzo Stuto, who are both members of the working group on this project as the board’s liaisons to the town’s consultants on the project, that the feedback they’ve received over the concerns for the cost of the betterments have been heard and have convinced them of the need to rework the numbers, which were based on current water usage of the property owners and estimated to be about $46,000 for single family homes and $35,000 for condominium units, assessed over 30 years. Sewer fees would be estimated to be about 150% of a property owner’s current water bill, assessed quarterly.
From the outset of the public outreach, town officials have emphasized that nothing is set in stone and the proposed financing plan was a starting point for these discussions with the community based on the numbers supplied by Kleinfelder, the town’s cost/financing consultants. But ultimately, O’Leary said, the decision will be made by all of the voters.
Simultaneously, the town’s DPW has been in ongoing discussions with the Mass. Dept. of Transportation as well as the towns and the city along the sewer route between North Reading and North Andover to coordinate any potential construction with other construction projects in those communities. There is essential in part because if the town does not piggyback onto the timeline of road and infrastructure projects in the works in any of these communities the window for street opening permits could be closed for many more years to come. For this reason, it is likely the Special Town Meeting would be called in the early spring. But for now, residents do not have to set aside time to attend a Special Town Meeting in early December and a new slate of public outreach meetings will be announced again after the holidays to seek community input on the revised numbers.