Originally published in Compass, October 4, 2012
Local impact of bond questions: Conservation and water treatment systems
by Jessica Brophy
This series of articles takes a closer look at the bond issues and citizen’s initiative facing voters in November. According to the Maine State Treasurer’s Web site, the state already owes more than $472 million in General Obligation Bonds.
Land For Maine’s Future conservation bond issue
Question 3 asks voters to authorize the state to raise and expend $5 million dollars to acquire land for conservation, water access, outdoor recreation, wildlife habitat, farmland preservation and working waterfront preservation.
The bond language puts a special emphasis on supporting “deer wintering habitat protection.”
To expend the $5 million, $5 million in matching funds must be raised.
According to the website of the Land for Maine’s Future Coalition, a support group for LMF composed of more than 275 organizations in favor of the LMF mission, Maine voters have supported LMF with bond questions five separate times since its inception: 1987, 1999, 2005, 2007 and 2010.
Mike Little, Executive Director of Island Heritage Trust on Deer Isle, said LMF funding made it possible for the IHT to purchase the Lily Pond beach in Deer Isle, a longstanding swimming spot popular with locals for generations.
“A grant from LMF paid for about 30 percent,” said Little, who said the group may have been able to raise the money without LMF’s help, but it would have been a struggle.
“You start looking around the state and the LMF has helped protect lots of pieces of land that are important locally, like the Lily Pond, but also state wide or nationally,” continued Little, citing Baxter State Park and salmon habitat conservation as examples.
Since 1987, more than half a million acres have been preserved through LMF. Eighty-four of those acres are in Penobscot at King Hill Farm, with two other farmland preservation projects in the area, one in Blue Hill and another also in Penobscot. Tinker Island in Blue Hill Bay was also preserved with the help of LMF funds.
A 2012 Trust for Public Land study found that for every $1 spent through LMF, $11 return to the state in natural goods and services to the Maine economy through tourism, outdoor recreation, forestry, agriculture and commercial fisheries.
Drinking water and wastewater treatment systems revolving loan fund bond issue
Question 5 asks voters to approve $7,925,000 to be spent over two years for revolving loan funds for drinking water systems and for wastewater treatment facilities. This expenditure would allow the state to secure $39,625,000 in federal grants.
Approximately $3.5 million of the bond would go into the state’s safe drinking water revolving loan fund, administered by the Maine Bond Bank and the Department of Health and Human Services, according to the Secretary of State’s Citizen’s Voting Guide. These funds may be used by municipalities with eligible public water systems to design, construct or improve those systems.
The remaining $4.3 million would go into an existing revolving loan fund administered
Karen Motycka, Castine’s financial officer, said the town looks for low-interest loans for water systems and sewer projects. Currently, Castine is in the middle of a two-phase sewer and public water project.
Motycka said the town will certainly look into any available funds from the revolving loan funds. “We have received some loans in the past,” she said. “There is a lot of competition for [those funds].”
It can be difficult to get access to the funds, said Motycka, and sometimes it’s not in the best interest of the town. “Sometimes there are rules and regulations you need to adhere to that actually can raise the costs higher,” she continued. “It’s not an automatic given that we would use [the revolving loan funds] but it is a good option to have out there.”
The town of Stonington, as well, has used bond bank funds to finance its water system, said selectman Evelyn Duncan. The water district—a separate entity from the town that pays for its debt via charges to the 300 or so customers served by the district—still owes nearly $300,000 for its major project about 15 years ago. Using the bond bank keeps interest paid to a minimum, said Duncan.