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Your Dracut Today

‘Irresponsible And Unacceptable’

Apr 22, 2019 10:22PM ● By Lisa Redmond

DRACUT – Several School Committee members agreed that cutting $100,000 from the proposed FY20 school budget to help fund the town’s $1.5 million stormwater program, rather than impose a user fee, is “irresponsible and unacceptable.’’

At Monday’s School Committee meeting, School Superintendent Steven Stone told the committee that Town Manager Jim Duggan told him to anticipate cutting $100,000 from the proposed FY20 school budget, which is scheduled to be voted on by Town Meeting on June 3.

Stone said cutting $100,000 from the budget is “extremely concerning…I don’t know how we will absorb that amount.’’

And this isn’t a one year cut, Stone said. The School Committee can anticipate this type of cut every year to support the stormwater program, Stone said.

Several school committee members said they plan to attend the Board of Selectmen’s meeting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 23 to object to any plan that would pay for the $1.5 million stormwater program from the town budget rather than a user fee.

School Committee member Sabrina Heisey said her research indicates many Massachusetts communities, such as Chelmsford, Chicopee, Newton and Fall River are establishing stormwater fees to pay for this program rather than pay for the program from the municipal budget.

Pulling the money from the town/school budget is paying for the program “on the backs of the students,’’ Heisey said.

Member Allison Volpe said the FY20 school budget is bare bones. To cut $100,000 from the budget is “irresponsible and unacceptable.’’

Last month, the selectmen were told the town is running out of time to meet new federally mandated stormwater regulations to prevent polluted stormwater from contaminating lakes, streams, ponds and rivers.

Dracut is mandated meet federal requirements for a five-year MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems) permit, which went into effect July 1, 2018. Every community in the state is required to establish a program to prevent stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces, such as driveways, walkways and roof to pollute waterways, according to Neal Campbell, a project manager with CDM Smith.

Campbell told the selectmen at a previous meeting that stormwater is rain, snow melt and anything else that flows into the storm drains then dumped into waterways and wetlands. The stormwater contains contaminants from grease to feces.

According to the MassDEP, all of Dracut’s eight waterways have E. coli levels that exceed MassDEP limits. E. coli bacteria found in animal waste, runoff from lawns and farms, flocks of geese and illegal septic connections. The Merrimack River is also impaired by phosphorus.

All that runoff travels through Dracut’s stormwater system, including: 77 miles of drain pipes, 1,125 culverts, 3,800 catch basins, 150 detention ponds, 430 outfalls and 160 miles of public streets.

Campbell estimates the town’s costs for the system will start at $750,000 in FY20, $1.25 million in FY21 and $1.5 million in FY 22.

CDM recommends the town implement a fee based on each property’s total square footage of the impervious surfaces such as roof tops, driveways, sidewalks and pools. CDM recommends a rate of $1.57 per 100-square feet in FY20, $2.47 in FY21 and $3.12 in FY22.

The result is the average single-family home with nearly 4,000-square feet of impervious area will pay an annual fee of $62 in FY20, $97 in FY21 and $123 in FY22. Dracut High School has more than 1 million-square feet will pay about $17,000, $26, 600 and $33,600. An office park with 187,000- square feet would pay $3,000, $$4,600 and $5,800.

The biggest program expenses involve the investment in capital equipment, such street sweepers and vacuum truck and staff; additional stormwater sampling and testing; a robust catch basin cleaning program; additional street sweeping; and stringent monitoring for illegal discharging.

Duggan admits he delayed implementing the stormwater program as long as he could due to the cost. But ignoring the mandate means the town will face fines, fees and sanctions from the federal government.

Many communities faced the same sort of economic challenge when towns were forced to clean waterways by beginning a wastewater/sewer program.

Dracut selectmen initially discussed creating a fee based on the impervious surfaces of each property to pay for the program. But when the selectmen started discussing the cost of this program, Selectman Chairman Jesse Forcier said he has heard from residents who angered at paying a $62 to $123 annual stormwater fee.

There is so much pushback, Forcier said he doesn’t think a fee-based stormwater management program will pass at the June 3 Annual Town Meeting.

Caught between a federal mandate for a stormwater program and opposition to a stormwater fee, Forcier said the funds for the program must come from the town/school budget, unless a “creative solution’’ is found.

With the Town Meeting deadline looming, Duggan agreed to prepare a list of all possible funding options and the financial impact funding the stormwater program will have on those options.

“Nothing will be sacred,’’ he said.

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