$2 million debt question

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

At the end of a ballot that takes voters through their choices for U.S. president, Vermont governor, local legislators and 15 justices of the peace, among other things, comes a wordy, technical question of hyperlocal significance. 

The yes/no question is whether to authorize the town to borrow up to $2 million to replace water pipes in a 100-home neighborhood on the northwest end of town. Known as the Lamplite neighborhood, it includes White Birch, Pine, Aspen and Lamplite lanes. 

This type of bond question might typically appear on a Town Meeting Day ballot. But town administrators are eager to take advantage of a one-time bump in money available through the state’s drinking water loan fund. They hope that, if a majority of voters approve the question in the Nov. 3 election, the town will be granted half the project cost through the state fund.

“This is an awesome opportunity for the Town of Williston to take advantage of to reduce the cost of the project,” Williston Finance Director Shirley Goodell-Lackey said at a recent public information session on the project.

The town’s public works department found numerous abnormalities with water piping in the neighborhood in 2018 when working on a stormwater retention project, according to Public Works Director Bruce Hoar. The main line, constructed in the 1960s, was not buried to enough depth to prevent freezing. Also, at 7,000 feet, it has only two shutoff valves. So if there is a problem, the entire neighborhood’s water service must be shut down to fix it. 

“We should be able to isolate the system with valves,” Hoar said. “That’s not the case.”

Because the line is shallowly buried, the town each winter asks residents of about 10 homes to run water continuously to prevent pipe freezes. 

“It is definitely a needed upgrade,” Town Manager Erik Wells said of the project.

The bond would be paid by the town’s water users. Administrators are not able to pin down what the cost to rate-payers will be. They noted that existing debt associated with a land purchase for a water tower is on pace to be retired in 2022, softening the impact of the new debt. 

“We don’t know the exact impact, but it shouldn’t be a significant impact to the water users,” Goodell-Lackey said.