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Sewer hike tied to state budget

Sewer rates in Peterborough will be going up 12 percent as of July 1, but town officials are hopeful that state aid grants, which could be as much as $400,000 per year, will enable them to lower the rate once a state budget is passed.

On Monday, Director of Public Works Rodney Bartlett and Town Administrator Pam Brenner said raising the rates by 12 percent for both fiscal year 2014 and fiscal year 2015 will still require the town to transfer $460,000 over the two years from its restricted capital reserve fund, which voters set up in 2006 to support construction of the town’s wastewater treatment plant. The town has already used about $400,000 to help buffer the impact of the new plant on sewer rates, Bartlett said, and about $600,000 remains available.

“We’ve been trying to carefully use the $1 million we had in the bank,” Brenner told the board. She said by 2016, rates should start to stabilize.

The board approved a 12 percent hike for 2014 fiscal year, which will take effect on July 1, and an additional 12 percent increase for 2015.

If state aid grants come through, the board agreed that the rate could be lowered or even dropped altogether, depending on the amount of aid available. N.H. State Senator Andy Sanborn, who was at Monday’s meeting, said the Senate’s version of the state’s biennial budget includes $4.6 million in each of the next two years for state aid for wastewater projects.

“The state made a commitment. I’m trying to deliver on it,” Sanborn said. He cautioned that the budget still needs approval from the N.H. House and might subject to a committee of conference, so it’s unclear how quickly a final budget will be approved.

“I have every reason to believe it will stay in the budget,” Sanborn said about the aid.

Brenner said the town can’t afford to wait for the state budget to be finalized.

“If we don’t raise rates now, we’d lose money big time,” she said. “We can reduce the rates later, if the money comes in from the state.”

The board also voted not to increase the water usage rates this year.

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