Town meeting 2022

WINCHESTER — Residents are poised to weigh in this year on multimillion-dollar plans to improve the town’s wastewater-treatment facility and expand high-speed Internet access.

Winchester officials have proposed borrowing a combined $7.4 million to fund those projects, which will come up for a vote at town meeting in March.

First, though, residents will have a chance to offer input on the wastewater and broadband proposals at a selectboard meeting tonight. Those hearings will be held at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall.

The plans include a $4.7 million project that would largely involve installing new equipment to dry the sludge that arrives at a wastewater-treatment plant on Duso Road, according to Town Administrator Karey Miner.

Winchester does not currently have the capacity to dry sludge — a liquidy sewage substance — Miner said. Instead, the town pays to ship that material to a processing facility in Merrimack.

Drying the sludge in town would save taxpayer dollars by eliminating the contract that covers shipping it away, Miner said. It could also generate revenue for the community, she said, if people want to buy the dried product to use as fertilizer on agricultural or recreational land. (Federal regulations allow that material to be used for growing produce, if treated correctly, though concerns over the practice remain.)

The municipal bond would also fund structural repairs at Winchester’s wastewater-treatment plant, which was built in 1978, according to Water Department Superintendent Rick Meleski.

Miner said that while no final decision has been made, she expects the town would pay off the bond for those upgrades over the next 30 years.

“I think the board will definitely discuss it at the hearing,” she said of that timeline.

Voters will also weigh a $2.7 million project to expand the broadband network in Winchester.

Miner said Consolidated Communications, which the town has selected as a vendor, would refund the entirety of that cost via user-generated fees — similar to broadband initiatives that many other Monadnock Region towns have approved in recent years.

A recent survey indicated that roughly 1-in-5 Winchester households does not have Internet access, with many more plagued by slow network speeds, according to Natalie Quevedo, who leads the town’s broadband committee. Better service would allow people to work from home and attend telehealth appointments, help students do their homework and attract business growth, Quevedo said.

Expanding broadband to those homes would also boost the town’s overall property value, helping lower tax rates, she said.

Quevedo said Tuesday the town hopes to apply for grant funding that would help reduce the amount needed to borrow for that project. Either way, the broadband committee expects the bond would be paid back well within its 20-year window, she said.

“I think that the overall word on the street in town is that this is a good project,” she said. “We just hope it passes come voting season.”

Both bond proposals will need at least three-fifths of the votes at Winchester’s March 8 town meeting to pass.

Caleb Symons can be reached at 603-352-1234, extension 1420, or csymons@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @CalebSymonsKS.