Peterborough boards split on highway garage plan

  • Peterborough resident Joanne Carr speaks about increases in taxes over the past year in Peterborough during a budget hearing on Tuesday. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • Peterborough resident Joanne Carr speaks about increases in taxes over the past year in Peterborough during a budget hearing on Tuesday. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, March 06, 2019 9:22PM

Town boards were split Tuesday night over recommending a $4 million bond to construct a new facility for Peterborough’s highway department.

Peterborough’s Budget Committee voted 4-3 not to recommend the warrant article for the highway department bond during a public hearing on the budget, proposed bonds and the proposed warrant articles on Tuesday. The Select Board did recommend the article, but not unanimously, in a 2-1 vote. Selectwoman Karen Hatcher was the dissenting vote.

The town is proposing to build a new highway garage on a currently wooded site adjacent to the town’s wastewater treatment facilities. The town would use plans from a recently built Department of Transportation facility in Salem, proposing to build an 8,000 square foot garage, salt shed, fueling depot and install an emergency generator.

If residents approve the bond, construction of the highway garage is scheduled to begin in spring of 2021. Once the highway department moved to the new location, the town plans to use the current highway department location as the site of a new fire station.

Several residents who live in the nearby Colonial Square said they weren’t in favor of the location, both for its impact on their neighborhood, and because Pheasant Road exits onto Route 202 in the same vicinity as South Meadow School and ConVal Regional High School.

“This is really going to impact us,” Colonial Square resident Lisa Acher said. “I’m really not happy about this.”

Acher said she understands the town needs a new highway garage but said she feels the location is not appropriate and asked if there was a possibility of re-building on the current site, or some other option.

Colonial Square resident Jeff Fuller told the boards the objections extended beyond the “not in my backyard” mentality. He was particularly concerned about the proximity to the school, which already creates traffic during pick up and drop off times.

“The cart’s before the horse from the public’s point of view,” he said. “I think the public is resistant because of the practical applications.”

The crowd quizzed the boards on other potential locations for the highway garage, asking if the board had considered other properties, including the former Staff Development for Educators building, which is currently for sale.

Several residents requested a process with more community input.

Selectwoman Barbara Miller said the question of the highway department and fire station replacement has been thoroughly investigated since 2005-06, and multiple options have been explored. Selectman Tyler Ward said the town has already been pushing off its municipal projects for more than a decade, and continually moving them down the road isn’t responsible.

“I assure you, every piece of property has been looked at. This is a very long term, well-thought out approach,” Miller said.

Cold Stone Springs

The boards also discussed a $8.26 million project to purchase property on the town line of Jaffrey and Sharon, just south of the Peterborough town line, known as Cold Stone Springs.

Peterborough has signed a memorandum of understanding with Jaffrey to work collaboratively and share costs on the project, which includes purchasing the land, building a water treatment facility, and connecting the three wells on the Cold Stone Spring to the municipal water system.

The town proposes bonding about $4 million for the project, and using other funding sources for the remaining $4.2 million, including state and government grants. The bond would be paid for by water user fees, not through the tax rate.

Both the Budget Committee and Select Board unanimously recommended the warrant article.

Town Administrator Rodney Bartlett told residents the current plan is to share costs with Jaffrey, though what percentage will be covered by each town is still in negotiation. The maintenance and operation of the water treatment facility is likely going to be split using water usage as a measure, he said.

Currently, about $3.25 million of the cost is anticipated to be related to Peterborough infrastructure, connecting the facility to Peterborough’s water distribution system, which is cost Peterborough would be solely responsible for. The remaining $5 million in costs would be shared in some measure by Jaffrey.

Peterborough resident Joanne Carr, who also works as a municipal employee for Jaffrey, said the project was a good idea, providing both redundancy and access to a fresh water supply for both towns. However, she said, if the project was a plus for the town, she would like to see some portion of the project paid for by taxes, not just water rates.

“That $4 million as a ratepayer is concerning. I support the project, but jeepers,” Carr said.

Peterborough’s deliberative session is set for April 2 at 7 p.m. at the Town House. Ballot voting on select warrant articles is scheduled to take place on May 14 at 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Peterborough Community Center. The Annual Town Meeting is scheduled to take place on May 15 at 7 p.m. at the Town House to act on the remainder of the warrant, including both bond requests, a $400,000 addition to the capital reserve fund and $325,000 ambulance lease-purchase agreement.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.