Surplus funds could equate to plant improvements

Wastewater treatment plant on Lopus Road in Beacon Falls. –FILE PHOTO

BEACON FALLS — Officials are eyeing money in the ample general fund balance to make upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant.

The Board of Selectmen approved a motion during a special meeting Jan. 13 to request the Board of Finance consider using up to $500,000 from the general fund balance to pay for the improvements. If the finance board agrees, voters would ultimately have to approve using the money at a town meeting.

Upgrading the treatment plant has been at the center of ongoing discussions for the past several years. Improvements to the plant, which is about 45 years old, have been deferred for decades. The town also had to deal with new government mandates to reduce the amount of phosphorous and other pollutants emitted.

The town commissioned the engineering firm Woodard & Curran to study what needs to be done at the plant. In 2013, the study estimated that the plant needed about $16 million worth of work.

Since then the town has taken steps to meet the new government guidelines on emissions and has done some improvements, including upgrades to pump stations in town. However, a long-term solution is still in the works, and officials are looking at several options for that answer.

The options include making the needed upgrades to keep the town’s stand-alone plant or regionalizing with a neighboring town, like Seymour, to treat wastewater. The Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments is conducting a study on consolidating the wastewater facilities in Ansonia, Derby, Seymour, Beacon Falls and Naugatuck.

“All of those options are still on the table,” Board of Finance Chairman Joseph Rodorigo said.

First Selectman Christopher Bielik said the money from the fund balance officials are seeking would allow the town to make necessary improvements while a long-term solution is finalized.

“What we’re looking at doing is trying to find projects that we can do that will bridge us from where we are today to whatever ultimate upgrade that we’re going to do with the plant. Whether that means we continue to operate on a stand-alone basis or whether we end up doing some kind of regional concept, perhaps with the town of Seymour,” Bielik said.

Bielik said exactly what those upgrades entail still needs to be fleshed out. He said officials are meeting next week to do that and should have more details by the Board of Selectmen’s meeting in February.

Bielik said the upgrades that are made will be done so they can be integrated in whatever long-term plan takes shape. He added the upgrades will improve operations and can help lower the town’s costs.

The plant, which is owned and operated by the town, costs more than $600,000 total to operate annually.

Bielik said those costs have increased due to steps taken to meet the mandated regulations on emissions. As an example, he said, the town uses chemicals to reduce phosphorous in the emissions from the plant. However, he said, the chemicals significantly increase the amount of product emitted from the plant and increases costs. Improvements can be made so the town doesn’t have to use the chemicals, which would save money on operating costs, he said.

The audit of the 2015-16 budget showed the town’s unassigned fund balance stood at about $2.7 million or a little more than 13 percent of the budget. The town has used some of that money for other capital projects, but using an additional $500,000 would keep the fund balance above the 9.25 percent threshold the town’s financial procedures recommended.

Rodorigo said the finance board will consider the selectmen’s request at its February meeting.

Aside from the funds the selectmen are requesting, Rodorigo said the Water Pollution Control Authority has about $500,000 in its fund, and there is about $225,000 left from a bond that paid for the study of the plant and some improvements.

Rodorigo said the money would allow the town to do a significant amount of work that can be incorporated into the final plan for treating wastewater. Rather than taking on a large multi-million project all at once, he said, making incremental improvements may be the better option for the town.