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Concord Monitor – Who pays the bill for water projects?

With the biggest increases in proposed city spending next year tied to major water and wastewater projects in the Heights, some city councilors appear poised to require more from developers to pay for growth-related infrastructure improvements.

The proposed 2025 city budget of more than $170 million includes a $40 million increase in spending, about $30 million of which is for capital projects. The vast majority of that spending, more than $24 million, will go toward sewer main replacements and a new pumping station for the Heights.

City Manager Tom Aspell told councilors at his opening budget presentation Thursday night that these improvements are intended to “support economic development and additional housing growth” in the area.

These projects have no impact on property taxes — which will rise 3.89% under Aspell's proposal — and come from sewer coffers: Water and sewer ratepayers will be charged about 8% more next year. For the “average homeowner,” who Aspell said should expect further and larger rate hikes in the coming years, that means a few more dollars per month.

“You upgrade them because you anticipate increased capacity needs,” Aspell said.

The city currently pays to improve sewer capacity and service as housing increases, but if a particular project required the installation of a sewer line, it would pay for it, Aspell explained.

With major new housing projects in the works, some city councilors questioned whether the city should charge developers more for the concentrated impact on city resources.

“I'm trying to understand the difference between moving a line to a place where there wasn't a line and having the developer absorb that cost, and deciding to upgrade a line that – hypothetically – just because of the expected Development needs to be updated,” said local councilor Judith Kurtz. “I understand why we would update the plumbing, but who is footing the bill for it?”

Ward 10 Councilman Jeff Foote, a longtime Bedford city planner, noted that Concord charges fewer appraisal and other impact-related fees for major projects compared to other municipalities.

“Other communities assign ratings to projects,” Foote said. “For example, a 1,000-unit, one-bedroom apartment in other communities — in some communities — would bring in more than $1.1 million, which would offset this increase that we're talking about today.

“I think these are things that we need to consider for the enterprise fund and also for our general budgeting practices.”

The city currently charges new projects a “connection fee” to connect to city sewers, which is tied to their size but does not require projects to specifically contribute to long-term investments in the system, according to Matt Walsh, assistant city manager for development.

When Steeplegate Mall was built just before 1990, Walsh explained, Concord had districts that charged wastewater investments. They were hired by a previous council after the mall fees were paid, he said.

Current plans by developer Onyx Partners call for demolishing much of the existing mall buildings and constructing several mixed-use residential buildings and large retail stores. The project would add about 600 homes to Loudon Road.

In an interview, Mayor Byron Champlin said he welcomes discussions about ways to increase cash flow from areas other than property taxes, but said the city, still focused on attracting economic and residential opportunities, should proceed cautiously.

“In the past, council has cut impact fees to stimulate growth,” Champlin said. “It’s a reasonable discussion, but it needs to weigh the pros and cons.”

Anna Harden

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