Outlook: Nashua

Great American Downtown group hires new director

The Great American Downtown civic group has hired an executive director with a background in historic preservation to lead the organization into its third year.

Sarah DiSano, of Dorchester, Mass., a former program coordinator for the nonprofit group Preservation Mass, is expected to start as executive director of the downtown Nashua group in mid-December.

Joy Barrett, leader of the group’s search committee, said DiSano had the experience, the strong interest and the personality to be executive director.

The executive director of such a small nonprofit has to be able to shift gears quickly, Barrett said. The person must be comfortable talking with city leaders at City Hall and then do more everyday work, like hanging posters.

DiSano, who replaces former executive director John Mitterholzer, was interested in all facets of the job, Barrett said.

Members of the Great American Downtown are merchants, residents, restaurateurs and banks. It promotes the continued revitalization of downtown Nashua. It officially came into existence at the city’s Winter Holiday Stroll in 2002.

The group’s second annual Halloween blowout drew thousands of costumed children and adults to the heart of the city in October, but the biggest event of the year remains the Winter Holiday Stroll, which features performers and residents who fill the downtown.

One of the biggest tasks for DiSano will be to build up the five committees that are the foundation of the organization. Three committees are running strong, but the volunteer outreach and fund-raising committees need to be strengthened with new members, Barrett said. Reinforcing the committees was identified as a priority in a strategic planning session last year, she said.

The organization used newspaper ads, postings with the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street organization and other related Internet sites to attract some 50 resumes. The applications were trimmed to a half-dozen, and then two applicants were interviewed.

Barrett, who said the committee worked to ensure the new director would be a good match for downtown, added that the goal was to look at filling the position from the perspective of a new store downtown as well as one with deep family roots on Main Street.

Nashua Rotary delivers a big anniversary gift

Rotary International won’t be 100 years old until some time next year, but the forthcoming anniversary has already inspired a $100,000 gift for the city of Nashua.

The Nashua Rotary Club has announced it will donate $100,000 toward the construction of a new park at the southern end of the city’s downtown area. U.S. Rep Charles Bass, R-N.H., had earlier announced a $250,000 federal grant for the project at the site of the former International Paper Box Machine Co., across from the Main Street Marketplace shopping plaza.

The land runs along Salmon Brook. City plans for its development include walking trails, historic features and an outdoor performance venue.

“The location of this particular site is key,” said Community Development Director Kathy Hersh. “It serves as a gateway to the downtown area.”

The parcel was acquired by the state Department of Transportation for mitigation purposes when land was taken several years ago for the expansion of the F.E. Everett Turnpike. The DOT’s contribution to the site will be about $235,000 when the $600,00 project is completed, Hersh said.

Auto dealer Jack Tulley said the local Rotary had been raising money for the past five years to mark the centenary of the worldwide organization.

Rotary International had encouraged its local chapters to undertake projects for their communities that are “visible and really substantive to commemorate all the things that Rotary stands for in the world,” said Tulley, a past president and a facilitator for the park project.

“We’ve raised money selling Christmas trees, we’ve had golf fund-raising events. Nickels and dimes, properly managed, added up,” said Tulley. “There is very limited green space in the center-city of Nashua,” he said. “This will provide that green space. This will be a wonderful place for families and children to go, a safe place to get outside and enjoy downtown Nashua.”

Nashua says utility takeover would mean rate savings

Despite criticism from the state’s largest business organization, Nashua city officials insist that their proposed takeover of the Pennichuck Corp. water utility will result in lower increases in rates for customers.

In filings with the state Public Utilities Commission, George Sansoucy, the city’s engineering consultant, said Pennichuck’s water rates increase by 77 percent through 2015. Under city ownership, he said, the increase would be about half that figure.

While Pennichuck Chief Executive Officer Don Correll says Sansoucy’s projections are just speculation, city officials at a press conference last month said the savings would largely come from three factors: an exemption from income tax, which is about $5 million in 2005 for Pennichuck; paying roughly 2 percentage points less in interest on borrowed money in an industry that relies heavily on borrowing money; and removing the pressure to raise water rates to increase investor dividends.

Starting in 2006, Sansoucy said, he believes Pennichuck Water Works officials could raise rates nearly 50 percent and then ask for rate increases every three years to ensure investors are rewarded. After the predicted rate spike in 2006, the rate increases would be about 11 percent, 8 percent and 9 percent, he claimed.

Rates also would increase for Pennichuck’s other regulated water utilities, Pennichuck East and the Pittsfield Aqueduct Co., but not by the same amounts, Sansoucy said.

The city of Nashua has announced plans to acquire Pennichuck Water Works, along with Pennichuck East and the Pittsfield Aqueduct Co., both subsidiaries of Pennichuck Corp., ever since the publicly held Pennichuck became the target of a failed takeover by Philadelphia Suburban Corp., now known as Aqua America, the nation’s largest U.S.-based publicly traded water utility.

According to Correll, the future rate increases suggested in the city’s filings are only hypothetical.

He said increases are based on investments made in the water system, and the company has no plans to seek increases in 2005, 2006 or 2007 beyond what the company has already requested, Correll said, adding that he “can’t predict at what timeframe they would be,” he said.

Earlier this fall, the PUC approved a temporary 8.94 percent increase in water rates for Pennichuck. The water company also has a pending request for a permanent rate increase of 19.4 percent, and hearings on that issue are scheduled for March. Pennichuck had not had a rate increase in more than two years.

City lawyers presented written testimony to the PUC from five witnesses last month, including Sansoucy, aldermanic President Brian McCarthy and experts from the Palmer & Dodge law firm and First Southwest Co., a financial adviser.

The filing also details how Nashua would transfer the assets to the newly formed Merrimack Valley Regional Water District, including:

• All communities with Pennichuck assets would receive payments in lieu of taxes equal to Pennichuck’s tax bill now and in the future.

• The city intends to hire a qualified management firm to operate and maintain the water system. Some 11 firms have expressed interest, including Pennichuck Corp.

The next hearing in the case was scheduled for Dec. 9.

City officials have estimated the price for Pennichuck Water Works and the two subsidiaries to be $81 million, by comparing the company to similar water utilities in New England. Sansoucy said the figure is based on a market rate of $2,700 per customer, and Pennichuck has about 30,000. A year ago, the city offered to buy the company for about $121 million.

But Correll said Pennichuck strongly disagrees with both figures. In the past, Pennichuck has promoted its value at upward of $200 million.

If the city were successful, the company would be purchased with so-called revenue bonds. The revenue from water users repays the bond.

Meanwhile, Nashua Mayor Bernie Streeter said he remains confident about an eventual successful outcome, although no one would guess when the issue would be resolved.

“We have won every legal battle to date, and we expect to be successful in the future,” he said.

The filing last month came nearly two years after the Nashua Board of Aldermen approved the voter referendum on acquiring Pennichuck, a year since the city made an offer to buy the company, and several months after the city first petitioned the PUC.

Correll predicted it would be another 18 months before the issue is resolved.

Meanwhile, in an article that appeared in the Nov. 26-Dec. 9 issue of New Hampshire Business Review, Business & Industry Association President John Crosier argued strongly against the city’s takeover.

“The situation, to be blunt, is a mess,” he said, adding that “it’s clearly a lose-lose situation for the taxpayers of Nashua and the employees and shareholders of Pennichuck Corp.”

Crosier in particular criticized the city’s attempt to use its power of eminent domain to take over not only the water operations inside Nashua’s borders, but it’s “also laying claim to Pennichuck subsidiaries that provide water service outside of Nashua through systems that are entirely unconnected to the one serving the city.”

He said that essentially the Pennichuck takeover attempt is the result of city officials’ desire to “block a legitimate business decision made by Pennichuck’s board of directors to merge with another company.”

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