DRACUT — The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday voted unanimously to set a fee at zero as a way to address new federal stormwater regulations Dracut must comply with.
The vote was 4-0. Selectman Tami Dristiliaris made the motion to set the fee at zero. Selectmen Vice Chair Tony Archinski said he would second it if it was under Option 5 — one of the alternative options Town Manager Duggan detailed in a presentation at the Board of Selectmen meeting. Dristiliaris told him that wasn't necessary. Archinski then seconded the motion.
Selectman Alison Hughes was absent.
Tuesday's highly-anticipated vote came at the tail end of Duggan's rundown of alternative options to a biannual fee for taxpayers. The six options included non-compliance and a flat fee where all entities pay the same fee. Under Option 5, a fee is not established and all stormwater activities and programs are funded through the General Fund. With this option comes impact to town departments like the Police and Fire Departments, as well as the Department of Public Works.
The polarizing potential stormwater fee would be used to comply with what's known as a five-year MS4 permit. MS4 stands for Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems, which are designed in part to collect or convey stormwater.
"The operations for the stormwater compliance will come out of the budget through the different departments that I have identified," Duggan said after the meeting, in reference to town departments he listed under one of the options. "Those are the areas that I've highlighted, but all departments are in play."
Dracut Public Schools' budget will remain untouched.
Some of the potential impacts through Option 5 are a reduction in fire training and a possible downgrade in the town's bond rating.
The selectmen peppered Duggan with questions before the vote.
"This will have an impact, whether it's through the general fund budget, whether it's through a fee, whether it's through a combination like paying for one-time expenditures out of the free cash every single year that it has to be done and reoccurring stay within a fee or within the general fund," Duggan told them. "The impacts will be there. We have a number of other different areas that have to be addressed in the operations that would draw from that economic growth that we have."
Citing the MassDEP, a project manager with the town-hired engineering and consulting firm CDM Smith Campbell told officials earlier this year that all of Dracut's waterways are impaired. How so? E.coli levels exceed MassDEP limits, and the Merrimack River is also impaired by phosphorus.
"The bodies are impaired," Duggan told officials on Tuesday. "They are, and it's something that we don't want to set false expectations or minimize any expectations to the board or to the residents and the property owners in the community."
Dristiliaris stressed that, as a board, they never discussed an impact to the school district.
Archinski thanked Duggan for his work but took issue with the part in Option 5 that mentions not hiring new police officers. He added that he thinks some of these suggestions can be tweaked.
"I would like to not set a fee and just kind of see what happens the first year because there'so many unanswered questions," Archinski said. "I don't want to set a fee and just have it accelerate without really knowing what we have out there."
Selectmen Chair Jesse Forcier said he agreed with his board members.
"We'll work hard to work within the limits that the selectmen have set, and to make sure that the town's adhering to the permit regardless of what they set for the fee," said David M. Langlais, chair of the Stormwater Committee that has been collaborating with the town on this project.
After the meeting, Forcier said he believes setting the fee at zero is equivalent to Option 5. "That's the way I voted on it," he said.
"I thought the general perception from the board is that they wanted to monitor the sustainability of this closely and even more so than Mr. Duggan's initial proposal for a six-month evaluation," Forcier added. "I think this is something that's going to be an ongoing conversation between the town manager and the board."
Amaris Castillo on Twitter: @AmarisCastillo.