MANCHESTER — The amount homeowners pay to use the town's expanding sewage treatment plant is expected to remain fairly stable over the next few years,as the Town Council approved last night a refinancing of the $11 million bond used to pay for the project.
In approving the refinancing of the town's $3 million sewage project loan, the council was able to keep the interest rate on the bond at 75 percent of the prime rate. The prime rate, now lower than 9 percent, is the rate commercial banks charge to their best customers.
The restructuring also defers payments of principal on the loan until 1993; interest-only payments totaling more than $6,500 a month have been made for more than a year and will continue.
"This refinancing should result in relatively constant sewer rates for a couple of years," said Kathryn L. Riley, the town's clerk/treasurer.
The federal and state governments will reimburse the town for about $2.5 million of the bond.
The sewage treatment plant expansion -- from a250,000-gallon capacity to a 500,000-gallon capacity -- is the largest public works project ever here.
The project has been in the works for almost two decades, and its cost has gone up from an original price of $7 million to more than $11 million.
And while the town itself is responsible for only 4 percent of the total cost -- the federal and state governments are picking up $10.4 million of the tab -- the $440,000 loan taken out by the town amounts to about 50 percent of its annual budget.
The sewage treatment plant will become cheaper for town residents as more and more homes are built and hooked up to the system, town officials insist.
Sewer bills, said projects administrator David Warner, average about $40 a month per household, orabout $480 a year.
And while last night's bond restructuring keeps the interest payments at their current levels for the next couple of years, should the town not attract some substantial development in the coming years, the cost to residents could skyrocket.
A study done last year showed that should development remain virtually stagnant, the town would be left with $1.1 million worth of sewage expenses by 1996 and a sewage fund deficit of nearly $42,000 in the same year.
"We do need some development," Warner said earlier this month.
Henry Blevins, the Mount Airy developer who has been trying to win approval for his 165-home Dell property project for nearly three years, is about to pull out of the project altogether. That project would generate nearly $79,200 a year in sewerage use fees, as well as about$200,000 in sewerage system connection charges.
At the same time the council is refinancing the costs of the sewer project, members were told of a possible source of grant money to pay for a gravity-powered sewage pipeline.
The gravity main, which is expected to cost $120,000, would allow businesses and homes in the north of town to hook up to the system.
Town officials also hope to develop a businesspark on the north end of town, and the gravity main is considered essential.
"Without the main, development up there would be pretty much idled," Warner said recently.
Two representatives from the state's Department of Economic and Employment Development said that the gravity main project might qualify for federal Community Development Block Grant funds.
Town officials have been looking at ways to cutthe cost of the gravity main for months.