Special Onset Fire District meeting to vote on $1.7 million water main project

Dec 5, 2018

A special meeting of the Onset Fire District is set for Monday, Dec. 17, with a $1.7 million water main project topping the agenda. Voters will also be asked to use revenues generated by a solar field near Sand Pond for future pipe repairs and retirement expenses. 

The meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. in the Dudley L. Brown Veterans of Foreign Wars Post at 4 Gibbs Ball Park Road. All registered voters living in the Onset Fire District may participate.

The district, which provides water and fire service in Onset, is governed independently from the town. The Wareham Fire District, a separate entity, provides the same services for the rest of Wareham and is also self-governed.

In total, three agenda items will go before voters at the special meeting.

At an informational meeting held on Dec. 5, Onset Water Commissioner Ben Hughes said customers would likely see a 20 percent increase in their bill if the $1.7 million plan to repair pipes under Cranberry Highway is approved. This means a bill of $150 would increase to $185 to pay back the 15-year note, which Hughes said would not go away. This increase would instead be kept to repair an aging water tank near the Bay Pointe Club.

Because the Fire Districts are governed separately from the town, rates may be raised by an amount without the need for a debt exclusion or an override of the tax-limiting proposition 2 1/2.

Current plans call for replacing the water main from 500 feet past Tyler Avenue to just before Sand Pond Road on both sides of the highway. The main dates back to 1924 and recently suffered a break near Bailey’s Surf N Turf that left several businesses and homes without water on Nov. 26.

“So far, that break has cost us $6,000 to repair,” said Superintendent Kevin Sampson. “If we don’t replace the entire thing, we’ll likely see 10 or 12 similar breaks within the next year.”

The goal, Sampson said, was to have the replacement project approved before the state begins work on a long-anticipated overhaul of Cranberry Highway in 2019.

The $20 million, 1.6-mile state project would revamp the highway from the Cranberry Plaza Shopping Center, where Routes 6 and 28 split into west and eastbound lanes, to a point approximately 900 feet east of the Red Brook Road Intersection.

Hughes said the state offered to put more than $300,000 towards the water main project, correcting an earlier statement in which he said the district would only be responsible for materials. The $1.7 million voters are being asked to approve would be used to cover both installation and materials, said Hughes, including items such as gravel, pipes, curb stops and hydrants.

Current project estimates sit at $1.4 million, but officials said they were optimistic that bids could come in even lower.

“The $1.7 million has a built in contingency of 15 percent,” Hughes said. “So we’re hopeful that we won’t have to use the whole thing, but it’s there just in case.”

Should voters at the Dec. 17 meeting decide not to approve the project, Hughes said the state will take the district out of the bidding process all together, thereby leaving them with the entire bill.

“We know the price tag appears staggering,” Sampson said. “But unfortunately, there’s nothing that’s really affordable these days.”

Officials will also seek voter approval to use revenues generated from a Borrego Solar field near Sand Pond for future pipe repairs in the district and retirement funds. According to Hughes, the leased property brings in $14,000 to $15,000 to the district each quarter.

If approved by voters, 75 percent of the field’s total revenue would go to the district’s standpipe fund to pay for future water tank repairs and maintenance. The remaining 25 percent would go towards the district’s other post-employment benefits fund, which covers retirement funds.

Voters will also be asked to revisit a previous request made at the Onset Fire District’s annual meeting for a generator. 

While Hughes said voters approved the $75,000 purchase, the prudential committee now is seeking to change the wording of the article for transparency.

“They asked for a generator,” Hughes said. “But none of the accessories to go with it.”

Approval from voters on this item a second time around would allow the district to purchase a propane tank for the generator as well as other necessary items.

According to Hughes, the district is waiting for this article to be approved before spending any of the approved $75,000.