Board looks to the future

MERRIMACK – In the utopian future, residents won’t need a canoe to get out of their driveways following a summer rainstorm.

Human waste at the treatment plant will be so finely processed that the southern part of Daniel Webster Highway will again smell like honeysuckle in the spring.

Emergency crews won’t have to sleep on Army-surplus cots between shifts of fighting two-day blizzards in Reeds Ferry.

And best of all, if you live in the northwest part of town, the first firefighter to show up when your garage burns down will be from the Merrimack Fire Department, and not neighboring Amherst.

The Board of Selectmen on Thursday began what’s expected to be a three-week process of shifting through its six-year plan for capital expenditures, those big-ticket expenses that require money to be squirreled away for a number of years to pay off.

Some of the items are hefty and will have a significant impact on property taxes that residents pay. For that reason, voters at the 1984 Town Meeting directed the Planning Board to prepare and maintain a six-year Capital Improvement Plan, or CIP, so that expenses can be staggered.

Before the plan gets to the Planning Board, however, selectmen have a crack at it. The schedule this year is for selectmen to go department by department over the plan before forwarding it to the Planning Board by Aug. 1, said selectman’s Chairman Dick Hinch.

Projects fall under the category of major or minor, said Finance Director Bob Levan.

While the projects are broad in type and scope, discussions at the selectmen’s meeting

Thursday focused first on proposals by the fire and highway departments.

“We have lots of drainage. Drainage, drainage, drainage, all over town,” said Ed Chase, Public Works director.

Storm culverts have to be redone to handle run-off after rainstorms, he noted. For example, a microburst just last week flooded streets in town, Chase said.

The Big Kahuna as far as upcoming projects will be a new digester or another process needed to upgrade the waste-water treatment plant on Mast Road.

Depending what selectmen decide to do, that could cost more than $10 million, Levan said. While money has been set aside in capital improvement accounts, much of the expense would be bonded, he said.

Besides that project, sewer lines will have to be replaced in parts of town, an expense that could result in what Levan termed a “significant” percentage increase in sewer-user rates.

Discussions were continuing at press time, and it was unclear in which budget year those projects would be done.

Also on tap in the six-year plan: building a new fire station in the northwest part of town in order to reduce response times. That area is now covered by both the town and Amherst under a mutual-aid agreement.

If the fire station is built, it would require $1 million a year in salaries, benefits and insurance to staff it with 12 firefighters, who would work in three-person shifts.

The CIP also includes improvements to the South Merrimack Fire Station. Both fire station projects would be bonded, officials said.

Another major project would be to spend $150,000 to improve the Reeds Ferry Fire Station.

Currently, the station isn’t staffed, but emergency workers will stay there when covering big events, such as hurricanes and blizzards, said Asst. Fire Chief Dave Parenti.

There are no sleeping quarters there now, and firefighters doze in chairs or sprawl on Army-surplus mattresses between shifts, he said.

Patrick Meighan can be reached at 594-6518 or