NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday unanimously authorized a borrowing of $783,910 for a number of infrastructure upgrades, including an engineering study of the city's two reservoir dams.
Mayor Richard Alcombright said the borrowing will be rolled into a long-term bond in the next couple years. The ability to borrow at this point comes from the stabilization of the city's finances because reserves are up and a significant amount of debt is falling off.
"We've been lining this thing up for five or six years now, waiting for our opportunity," he told the council. "We have debt falling off [by $1.2 million] by 2021."
The city would use a short-term note with interest only, about $16,000-$17,000 a year. This will allow engineering estimates to be done, at an estimated cost of $176,600, for the Mount Williams and Notch Reservoir dams. When the engineering is done and those projects are ready to be bonded, what's left on the short-term borrowing will be rolled in.
"We're going to finance this through debt that's falling off," the mayor said, and it should not have a tax impact. "We've been working our reserves really hard to be at this point."
The borrowing also includes an upgrade of the obsolete computer system used to operate the water treatment facility at a cost of $255,100 and new media filters for the treatment facility at $83,200. The SCADA System that the plant uses is no longer used or supported by the company. The funds would purchase an updated system from the same company and train the operators in its use.
"We've had several failures over the last year and half," the mayor said, adding it uses 16-18 motherboards. "The last board [Commissioner of Pubic Services Timothy Lescarbeau] was able to find was from out west — Nevada or Oregon — and it cost $8,000."
Alcombright said Lescarbeau described the system as similar to an autopilot in that it runs the plant and alerts operators when something's wrong.
"If we didn't have a system like this we would have to have operators up there 24/7," he said. "This system really does everything."
The system is a "Cadillac," the mayor said, using Lescarbeau's term. "We talk so much about water quality in our community and all over the place, I probably wouldn't accept anything less in the environment we are in right now."
The sand filters are required to be changed out on a regular basis of eight to 10 years. They have already been replaced and the funds will cover their purchase.
The problems with the reservoirs' infrastructure was identified as a priority in 2011
in a study of capital needs done by Tighe & Bond and more recently in a presentation to the Finance Committee. Alcombright said the state Department of Environmental Protection has been pushing the city to address the deteriorating structures.
City Councilor Keith Bona said he's seen pictures of the dams and that "there's stuff from the Romans that look better than ours."
The final item is a brand-new Elgin Broom Bear street sweeper at a cost of $269,010. The mayor said the current one is close to 20 years old and has been breaking down on a regular basis. The condition of the streets has irked residents who have been complaining for some months.
He was pushing for that to be approved because a state-certified bidder was holding one for sale that city could get within a few weeks. If it had to bid out for one, it would likely be into the fall and would not be in regular service until next spring.
Councilor Robert R. Moulton Jr., who is running for mayor, questioned if all the items had to be voted on Tuesday and whether any could be put off for another year.
"On the street sweeper ... sharing with another town or leasing? It's a huge sum of money, $270,000, that's going to be paid for down the road," he said.
The mayor said Administrative Officer Michael Canales had looked into leasing but find any significant savings by doing it. And sharing was problematic because the sweeper is out regularly during the summer, and there is a question of who maintains it if it breaks.
"If it wasn't something we didn't use a lot, but when it's in good shape its out almost everyday," he said. "We think it's critical piece of equipment."
Councilor Lisa Blackmer noted that there had been some discussion in the community about using Chapter 90 road funds for the purchase.
"That purchase would take up 61 percent of our Chapter 90 money," she said. "I would rather see roads done."
The mayor said there was also question if that state aid could even used for a street sweeper.
Moulton also asked about delaying the SCADA System but the other councilors pushed back, saying it was critical to the operation of the water treatment plant.
"How many of us have computers at home that are that old?" Bona asked. "Maybe we can get another year out of it but do you all of a sudden get a call that we can't get the part and we're living off the well now and we are in a real emergency."
Councilor Joshua Moran said they were discussing products that make the city's systems work: "I'm very OK with the spending of money on what's coming out of our taps."
"A good water system is the back bone of any community," Councilor Wayne Wilkinson said. "It looks like a lot of dollars on paper but it really isn't."
He felt the same about the street sweeper, recalling how he and his neighbors were frustrated until it finally showed up. "It's really important the street got swept." Wilkinson said. "People pay taxes and they expect it to get done."
Two council candidates, Roger Eurbin and Bryan Sapienza, spoke in favor of the borrowing. Eurbin said sharing was a good idea but it wouldn't work with the sweeper; Sapienza said he'd worked with obsolete equipment and strongly supported upgrading the water plant system.
Moulton, however, noted that a new mayor and new council would be coming in next year. Was it worth waiting to allow the new government to make these decisions, he asked.
Blackmer objected to that notion, saying that's what they were elected for.
"We have a two-year term, we can't sit on our hands for six months out of a two-year term," she said. "We have to move forward, we have to make hard decisions. ... Then the next council comes in in January and they can make their decisions."
The mayor said he also would be coming forward with borrowing for two more items — repairing retaining walls along Hill Side Cemetery and on West Main Street across from K-M Motors.
In other business, the council approved a transfer of $42,891.36 from the Parking Meter Reserve Account to the public safety department to buy a Ford Utility Police Interceptor. The mayor said there was a couple hundred thousand in the account at this point.
The entire frontline fleet will now be all small sport-utility vehicles that the officers like because they are roomier and all-wheel drive, he said, with the oldest at four years. The fleet's older models are used by the detectives and auxiliary staff and for officers who need them to attend the academy for further training or recertification.
That passed with three abstentions because Bona, Boucher and Wilkinson all have relatives working in the Public Safety Department.